Advising Holistic Students #1

Here are several stories of individual students I’ve advised over the last two years. My learning and growth in working with these students gets to the heart of how many of the program competencies combine in order for me to positively impact each student. In order to keep confidentiality, I will not reveal names or terms in which I taught or advised these students.

First, I want to speak of a student in my Career Decision Making class. In her values reflection paper, the first assignment that students hand in, this student revealed that she was living with her boyfriend and together they were parenting her elementary-aged brother. This situation came about because her mother was mentally ill and unable to care for her son and her father was not part of their lives. The student was traditionally-aged but with significantly more responsibility than most traditionally-aged college students. During the course of the term, the student told the class that she was considering being a lawyer, but she was concerned about the years of schooling involved. This extra school time was especially a consideration because she was supporting and parenting her brother; she wanted to be earning a salary that could support her family as soon as possible. She made an appointment with me around the fifth week of the term to discuss some options. We met at Java to talk for an hour or so before class.

When the conversation began, I could sense that she was anxious. She wanted to figure out now, today, what she should do for the rest of her life. And she was weighing what would make her happy with what would support her family. Our conversation swirled around this dichotomy, as well as around what she saw as her primary interests, law, finance, and something else she knew was out there that she hadn’t yet identified. We talked about the results from her Strong Interest Inventory and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I remember that she was surprised at first that her top Holland Code was conventional, but the more she read about it, the more it made sense to her. She liked numbers and organizing and managing others, and she also wanted to help people. I reassured her that she did not have to decide today which path she would take and that she could have several careers during the course of her lifetime, so even if she made one choice today or this month or this year, she could make another choice in her thirties or forties or fifties to explore other aspects of her working life. By the end of our conversation, she seemed calmer and willing to trust in the assignments and research that we were doing as part of the course. I explained that she could check in with at any point to brainstorm ideas or talk things through.

In this interaction, I utilized my knowledge of career development theories, student development theories, and counseling micro-skills. Certainly, I was encouraging her to try things (courses and co-curriculur experiences) that could help her make some choices, based on my understanding of Astin’s (1984) and Krumboltz’s (2009) work with  involvement and happenstance respectively. I also realized that this 17-year-old student was developmentally at a point where she might want me, the authority, to provide her with the answer, as per the cognitive development work of Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule’s (1997) Women’s Ways of Knowing. Therefore, I tried to nudge her toward comprehending that she would know for herself what was best. I used my knowledge of the institution and the resources available to her, including programs and services to help her manage her responsibilities and provide support, like the Human Services Resource Center, Mealbux, and on-campus childcare. She explained that her boyfriend was working full time and supporting them all currently, as well as picking her brother up from school on days she couldn’t and making many of the meals at home. Therefore, I recognized that this student had quite a lot of support, one of Schlossberg’s (1984) four S’s, despite the trying circumstances. I greatly admired this student. In spite of her extreme circumstances, she had set goals toward graduation and was working toward them no matter what. In order to understand the various aspects of her life that could be influencing her decision making and process, I needed to consider the holistic student, in and out of my classroom and in and out of the university.

Near the end of the term, after engaging in some career research and discovering some other options that fit with her interests, skills, values, and personality, the student completed an informational interview with a healthcare manager, and she realized it was the perfect fit for her. Not only would she get to help people, but the work she would do day-to-day would be conventional in nature, managing others and organizing information. She also would have time to spend with family, a hugely important value to her, and a decent salary after a four-year degree. Finding this path was an enormous relief; she discovered a great fit! This student was one of those from whom I learned an immense amount, who inspired me to do better and be better, and who made the work we all do worth it.

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