UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Elaine Barry, associate professor of human development and family studies at Penn State Fayette, the Eberly Campus, and Janet Spearly, director of academic advising in the Smeal College of Business, have been selected to receive the 2020 Penn State Excellence in Advising Award.
The award, established by the former Undergraduate Student Government’s Academic Assembly and sponsored by each college, annually honors one full-time professional adviser and one full-time faculty member from any Penn State location who have at least two years of advising experience. Selection criteria are based on excellence in general advising, academic and career guidance, enthusiasm and assistance in decision making, and goal setting.
Barry said she owes her advising expertise to her students because they constantly needed her to evolve.
“Most of our students at Fayette are first-generation, almost all of them work, and most have some sort of serious family responsibilities such as caring for aging parents or siblings or have children of their own,” Barry said. “Any qualities I bring to the advising relationship have been learned through advising relationships with my amazing students.”
For Barry, those qualities include:
● Advising is a relationship. She said her role requires engagement, attention and effort of both parties to be successful. But Barry said it’s her duty to establish this relationship.
● Advising is multi-faceted. Barry learned to take a broad view of advising because each case is different. Her role is to aid students in scheduling, academic performance and finding a career path that suits the student.
● Knowledge is no good unless it is shared. Barry created a human development and family studies handbook and degree checklist to help students and others in advisory roles. She said these documents also help students clearly see a path to success. These materials, which are handed out at new student orientation, help students become an active part of decisions made during their college experience.
“This contains information for students at every level and is designed to help them see the ‘big picture,’ not just their coursework, but rather their path to graduate school or a career and beyond,” Barry said.
Spearly, who’s seen countless student encounters in her 32 years at Penn State, said student advising is the most rewarding. Although the tools continue to change, she said, one thing remains the same: every day is a chance to positively impact someone’s life.
Spearly envisions herself as a mentor rather than an adviser, working with the student in a give-and-take relationship of shared experiences.
“Academic advising has very little to do with helping students select courses and everything to do with helping them to develop and grow as individuals,” Spearly said. “It teaches them how to be resourceful and self-reliant, how to make good choices and how to learn something useful even after making a poor choice.”
Spearly said she’s frequently a sounding board for students and finds simple interactions can have profound results. And she’s driven to get results.
“This is what keeps me motivated,” Spearly said. “It’s the knowledge that in some small way I am helping my students achieve their goals so that they can make the world a little better.”