Sumitha Nagarajan is a success story at the Freshman-Sophomore Advising Center.
That's because the Olathe freshman stopped by the center's office in Strong Hall when stumped by a question about getting a copy of her Kansas University transcript.
Providing accurate, consistent and personalized academic advising is the center's mission.
"Trying to figure out how the college system works has been my biggest challenge," said Nagarajan, who is interested in earning a pharmacy degree. "It's much different from high school."
Convinced a majority of newcomers to campus -- freshmen, sophomores as well as transfer students -- needed more guidance, KU created the advising center five years ago. The center's target audience contains about 5,000 students.
Tammara Durham, associate director at the center, said Nagarajan's experience learning the ropes at a university was typical.
"The freedom kind of takes them by surprise," she said.
Durham said the advising center had contributed to improvement in the freshman-to-sophomore retention rate as well as the five-year graduation rate at KU.
She also said more students indicated in surveys that academic advising at the university was meeting their requirements.
"I would hope that students are getting the answers they need," Durham said.
The center was started to advance students' academic and life goals. That involves counseling students on decisions about courses, majors and careers. Students undecided about a major or who are changing majors are given special assistance at the center.
Staff at the center include university faculty, professional advisors, graduate assistants and student mentors. If they can't help, they'll refer students to other programs on campus -- tutoring, for example -- that fills a void.
The center is responsible for three programs:
- Freshman Summer Institute, a four-week academic transition program for newly admitted undergraduates. Students in this academic transition program receive five hours of course credit. The cost of tuition, room and board and program fees is $1,800 for residents of Kansas.
- Mount Oread Scholars Program, an academic and advising service for high-ability freshmen. It serves about 300 students annually.
- Haskell Mentor Program, a program linking KU faculty, staff and student mentors with students transferring to KU from Haskell Indian Nations University.
In general, KU assigns freshmen and sophomores to individual advisers at the beginning of the school year in August.
"We try to get that to students during Hawk Week," Durham said.
Students in freshman-entry level programs of architecture, engineering and fine arts are assigned to faculty advisers in those schools.
"But if students come to us and have general questions, we're happy to help them," Durham said.
In October, freshmen attend meetings to review advising and enrollment procedures and academic policies important in the first year at KU.
All freshman students are required to meet with advising center staff at least twice during the academic year. If that doesn't occur, the center can place a "hold" on a student's enrollment form.
"That certainly gets their attention," Durham said.
The center's appointment calendar gets harried every spring because of enrollment. More than 3,000 students met with advising center officials from March 24 to April 18.
The center also coordinates a "Majors Fair" in the spring semester that focuses on first- and second-year students who are undecided on a major. Academic schools and departments converge on the Kansas Union to share information about careers that could result from a specific program of study.
"Students can come shop around for a major," Durham said.