DUS advisers support students, one another during pandemic

May 04, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State advisers provide critical support to their undergraduate advisees during the best of times, and this is even more true during the coronavirus pandemic.

As current circumstances present Penn State students with a range of challenges, from housing and food insecurity to technological difficulties, advisers in the Division of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) are going the extra mile to support their advisees — even as they contend with new challenges of their own.

“The role that advisers play in connecting students with resources they need is more important than ever,” said Janet Schulenberg, senior director in the Division of Undergraduate Studies. “College life can be challenging to navigate under normal circumstances, and this is even more true when students are at a physical distance from campus. In many cases, advisers are serving as students’ main connection to Penn State during this period of remote teaching and learning.”

The pandemic has amplified challenges for students who were in vulnerable positions beforehand, Schulenberg explained. She cited a survey of U.S. college students conducted this year by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice which found that 39% of respondents were food insecure in the prior 30 days and 46% were housing insecure in the previous year. These students are even more at risk as the pandemic separates them from campus resources and presents many families with new economic pressures.

To mitigate these challenges, advisers are actively reaching out to their advisees to ask how they are doing and to connect them to needed resources, explained Schulenberg. For students in rural areas who lack adequate internet service or laptops, Penn State’s Teaching and Learning with Technology group is creating hotspots and lending out machines. For students facing food and housing insecurity, both the Student Care and Advocacy office and Complete Penn State programs are offering emergency financial aid.

Advisers are also playing an important role as advocates for students, explained David Smith, associate dean for advising and executive director of the Division of Undergraduate Studies. Advisers can see firsthand how Penn State policies impact students, and their advocacy among Penn State leadership can help to influence these policies. For instance, DUS advisers recently played an important role in informing the alternative grading system which will enable students to protect their GPAs and remain eligible for financial aid despite dips in their academic performance.

Even as students are requiring more support from their advisers, advisers are facing unprecedented pressures of their own.

“Staff are having to blend their work lives and their family lives in a way many never have before, and they are also having to contend with isolation and concerns about the health of extended family members,” said Smith. “Yet advisers must remain well themselves in order to be fully present for students.”

Smith explained that he is helping his team to maintain their well-being by keeping expectations manageable, allowing for flexible schedules and encouraging staff to remain connected with one another remotely.

Brian Petrosky, a DUS adviser who is currently working from home with his spouse while caring for their two children, ages 4 and 5, provided a glimpse into a workday spent balancing advising with family responsibilities.

Mother, father and two sons in their home

DUS adviser Brian Petrosky is supporting his advisees from home while caring for his young family. Pictured here is Brian with his spouse, Katy, and their two sons, Zeke (bottom left) and Jude (bottom right).

IMAGE: Brian Petrosky

“I’ve become accustomed to using my view of the Zoom room to see what my children are up to behind me,” he said, noting that he and his partner make sure to set up their kids with books, puzzle, games or other entertainment if they both have meetings at the same time.

Technology has also helped to facilitate remote interactions among advisers, students and staff across the University, as Smith explained. Starfish has been invaluable in enabling students to reach out to their advisers and allowing Penn State faculty, advisers and tutors to collaborate with one another in supporting students. In addition, Microsoft Teams has enabled DUS advisers to support one another from a distance.

“Through Teams our staff have found ways to maintain a sense of community and to replace those hallway interactions that were previously so critical,” said Smith. “Whether it’s sharing recipes or circulating gratitude logs, our advisers are finding ways to keep their spirits up during these uncertain times.”

Petrosky affirmed that collaboration through Teams has been critical for enabling advisers to do their jobs effectively during this period of remote teaching and learning.

“There is far too much information for any single adviser to know,” he said. “With tough cases, it’s useful to bounce ideas off one another or formulate solutions. In the office, that help was just a few feet away down the hall. I feel that I’m getting the help I need remotely. Overall, I feel massively supported by our entire team.”

The Division of Undergraduate Studies, a unit within Penn State Undergraduate Education, is Penn State’s largest unit of enrollment for first-year students. It leads the development of advising policies and practices, manages the University-wide academic information network and provides general academic advising for current and prospective Penn State students. Learn more about Undergraduate Education at undergrad.psu.edu.

"We Are" stories

The “We Are” spirit is perhaps more important than ever before, and Penn Staters everywhere are coming together in new and amazing ways. During these challenging times, our community is continuing to realize Penn State’s commitment to excellence through acts of collaboration, thoughtfulness and kindness. As President Eric Barron has written on Digging Deeper, this truly is a “We Are” moment — and we want to hear your “We Are” stories.

Visit news.psu.edu/WeAre to share how you or other Penn Staters are supporting each other to overcome the collective challenges presented by novel coronavirus. We are!

Last Updated May 04, 2020