Great Advising

by Elizabeth Wilcox

Berkeley is a place where greatness is nurtured and celebrated – including great advising. While there are many forms of greatness, we set out to define the universal truths of great advising by interviewing a sampling of Berkeley’s best-of-the-best. Offered here are their collective reflections on what great advisors do, know, value and produce and how you too can continue to develop your own special brand of awesomeness. 

The Givens

It goes without saying that all great advisors operate from a solid professional foundation. That foundation includes the following givens. 

Great advisors are knowledgeable about the characteristics and needs of their students and informed about their respective programs as well as institutional mission, goals, requirements, policies, procedures, rules and regulations. 

They are accessible to students – logistically and personally.

They are accurate and timely in their response to student needs.

They are fair and seek to become aware of their biases.

They are ethical in their practice.   

They are able to effectively refer students to appropriate resources.

What Great Advisors Do

Beyond the givens, great advisors do the following:

Great advisors see each student and every advising interaction as unique and have the ability to adapt their style, strategies and methods depending on the student’s needs and situation.

Great advising is based on a relationship between individuals. Advising is not something that is done to a student; at its best, it is a continuous, open, collaborative, authentic, honest, genuine, fluid, exchange between individuals. Vulnerability and kindness are core dispositions. Many advisors described this as an energy exchange – current flows from the advisor to the student and back again to the advisor – each learns from the other and is energized. Other descriptions of this exchange included use of a dance metaphor where the student is leading, and a tandem bike metaphor where both parties work in unison with doubled peddling power.

Great advisors are inclusive. They seek to become aware of their biases and create inclusive, welcoming environments for students.

Great advisors see themselves as advocates. Advocacy can take many forms including going the extra mile for students, creating a welcoming and safe space, and helping students recognize their own strength and resilience. They help students navigate the University’s complex systems and hierarchies and ultimately create a greater sense of agency and ability to self-advocate.

Great advisors are connected to people, resources and ideas. Advising is a complex interdependent activity and great advisors get and stay connected.

Great advisors are expert listeners, adept at asking the right questions and are aware of self and others. They are perceptive and they listen (without judgment) with their entire self to both verbal and non-verbal cues.

Great advisors see things from the student’s perspective, they have a unique capacity to empathize and remain humble.

Great advisors are creative and constantly see opportunities for continuous improvement. They often do not think they are great since they see greatness itself as an orientation toward never ending improvement.

What Great Advisors Know

Our greats identified one simple thing that all greats know:

Great advisors know that change is constant and that they cannot know everything. They admit this with grace and humor and constantly seek to discover what they do not know.

What Great Advisors Value

Great advisors value learning, cultivate the potential for growth in students and are themselves curious and continuous learners. The learning and growth that happens over time is often reciprocal with benefits to both the advisor and student.

Greats are progress, success and completion oriented. Many great advisors described the pride they take in seeing students reach important intellectual and personal milestones. They believe in every student’s ability to succeed.

They value feedback on their performance. Greats seem to have an innate desire to know how they are doing and they look for and use formal and informal evaluation of their performance to adapt, modify and improve their practice.

Greats are authentic. This quality is often described as the ability to be genuine, human, open, honest, and vulnerable. Much emphasis is placed by greats on openness and vulnerability in the advising exchange. When students know and understand their advisors to be human beings, they themselves are more able to confide, connect, reflect, accept and grow.

Greats are often creative, innovative, and fun loving. The ability to think outside of the box is a source of constant pride as is the ability to use humor to reduce stress and leverage connection.

They value teamwork, collaboration, connectedness, networks, and professional partnerships and they leverage these to create support systems for themselves and their students. They see their success as tied to the successes of others.


What Great Advisors Produce

The critical benefits and outcomes of advising are well known; enhanced engagement, performance, learning, intra and interpersonal skills, greater connectedness, wellness and improved ability to retain, transition, persist and complete degree requirements. In addition, greats described the following additional benefits of great advising:

Greats enhance learning, meaning making and help clarify purpose. Much emphasis is put on open-ended questioning, reflection and synthesis as strategies for helping students better understand their interests, experiences, choices, progress and future goals.

They expand opportunity, discovery and growth. Great advisors use a magical formula of support and challenge that leads to new possibilities, options and opportunities for students.

Greats understand the University to be a place of complex hierarchies and they work to increase agency, confidence and the ability to self-advocate.

Great advising supports identity development and opportunities to reframe one’s view of oneself and one’s ability. It provides the “safe space” or “brave space” needed to explore multiple intersecting and emerging identities and core values.

Great advising increases confidence. Advisors often provide the much needed “you are as good and smart as everyone else” encouragement students need to persist.

Great advising has a positive emotional impact – students often feel less stressed, worried, anxious, insecure, alone, and confused. They leave great advising sessions feeling more positive, calm, uplifted and empowered. In short, they feel cared for and affirmed. Students have greater awareness of and ability to manage a wide range of emotions; through trust and openness great advisors support emotional expression and create bridges to other critical support networks.

Great advising creates and expands connections– students are more connected to the institution, to their peers, to faculty, to resources and opportunities.

How Greats Get and Remain Great

Great advisors are open to, welcome and seek out feedback on their performance especially from students.

They engage in on-going professional development activities both formal and informal; they make learning a priority.

Great advisors are connected to others and to the advising community. They see their work has highly interconnected and dependent on the strengths, knowledge and expertise of others.

Great advisors can often be found helping and inspiring their colleagues. By supporting others they deepen and extend their own abilities and practice.

Great advisors become and stay great by surrounding themselves with greatness. All greats mentioned another great advisor who mentored or inspired them and upon which they modeled their own practice.

They are reflective and able to balance professional and personal responsibilities. They have developed and employ a wide range of self-care strategies to ensure optimal performance. They know when and how to step away and recharge.

With deep appreciation and gratitude to the great advisors who contributed to this project and to the many great advisors on the Berkeley campus who do so much to improve the lives of students. Thank you for leading and inspiring our advising community.

Dolann M. Adams                                         
Patrick Allen                                                                         
B. Yuki Burton                                                          
Jessica Clarkson                                                                    
Avisha Chugani                                                        
Meaghan DeRespini                                                             
Leah Flanagan                                                                      
Amy Griggs                            
Melissa Hacker                     
Christopher Hunn                
Mitzi Iñiguez     
Laura Jimenez-Olvera
Blaine Jones
Bridgette Lehrer
Paige Lee
Sharon Mueller
Jane Paris
Heather Peng
Melissa Pon
Omar Ramirez
Shirley Salanio  
Rocio Sanchez
Khia Serneo
Nadine Spingola-Hutton
Dewey St. Germaine
Elizabeth Storer
Carolyn Swalina
Claudia Trujillo
Brieanna Wright

Every day, each student, and every advising interaction is unique. A great advisor responds by adapting their style, technique and strategies to meet individual needs and situations. They see every interaction as an opportunity to get better.

Elizabeth Storer
Academic Advisor,
Molecular Environmental Biology

Great advisors recognize the uniqueness of each student in terms of background, interests, pressures and goals and deliver resources that suit the individual.

Jessica Clarkson
Student Services Advisor,
African Student Center

Great advisors let students know that they can talk about anything. They create inclusive, trustworthy, non-judgmental, safe spaces.

Nadine Spingola-Hutton
UG Student Services Advisor,
Earth and Planetary Science

Great advisors know that students are always evolving and that they themselves are always evolving. They know that they are not going to know everything so they get and remain as connected as possible.

Meaghan DeRespini
Student Services Advisor,
Fall Program for Freshman

Great advisors know that the advisor advisee relationship is reciprocal and that we teach and learn new things from each other.

Khia Serneo
Lead Undergraduate Advisor,
Department of Economics

Great advisors have the capacity to employ “compassionate candor”.  I define that as being honest, authentic, and transparent in your care for the student, while still asking the tough questions or challenging the student’s perceptions. When the advisor and student connect as unique individuals, great, constructive things can happen.

Christopher Hunn
Associate Director of Undergraduate Matters
& LSCS Advisor,
College of Engineering

Great advising facilitates the learning process. Through self-reflection and synthesis the advisor is connecting the student’s thoughts and words to broader ideas, possibilities and options.

Omar Ramirez
Academic Advisor,
College of Environmental Design

Great advising can disrupt negative narratives about ability and identity and reframe these by helping students identify and acknowledge previously unrecognized strengths. Students come away with a new sense of agency, confidence and ability to self-advocate.

Carolyn Swalina
College Advisor,
Letters & Science UG Advising

Great advising is a process of asking open-ended questions that lead to life changing aha moments.

Patrick Allen
Director of Student Services,
Department of Economics

Iron sharpens Iron. Great advisors surround themselves with greatness.

B. Yuki Burton
Academic Counselor,
Educational Opportunity Program

Great advising is part of a discovery process; over time students get a better sense of who they are, how they learn, where they fit in, who they are going to be, and how to do their best.

Leah Flanagan 

Great advisors see things from the student’s perspective. They understand how intimidating Berkeley can be and they help students interpret, navigate and understand our complex systems and hierarchies. They breakdown that myth that you can’t visit a Nobel laureate during office hours.

Claudia Trujillo
Student Services Manager,

I try to balance the need to talk with the need to listenand resist the urge to fill up silences and help with answers to challenging questions. This practice helps students realize their own personal power and capacity for decision making.

Jane Paris
Academic Advisor, 
Engineering Student Services