Advisors Help Business Students with More Than Academics During Pandemic

Business student advisors Anita Chieh, Carol Towle and Eric Maitland
Manning School of Business college-based advisors, from left, Anita Chieh, Carol Towle and Eric Maitland help first- and second-year students map out their college paths.

By Ed Brennen

Anita Chieh’s office door is open on a recent Friday afternoon. Just as she’s done throughout her 17-year career as an undergraduate student advisor in the Manning School of Business, Chieh is waiting to help students who might drop by with questions about registering for summer or fall classes.

The drop-in hours are normally held at the Pulichino Tong Business Center. But “normal” went out the window this spring because of COVID-19. So for now, Chieh’s office is a virtual room on Zoom where students can join her for a video conference or voice chat.

“We’re not physically there with them, but it’s not significantly different,” Chieh says by phone, while keeping an eye on her room for new guests. “We give them the same level of attention and have meaningful conversations. It’s working well.”

Chieh is one of three college-based advisors, or CBAs, in the Manning School. The team, which includes Carol Towle and Eric Maitland, works with all first- and second-year business students to help them map out their college careers. The CBAs offer guidance on everything from which classes students should take and what clubs they may want to join to how they can fit a co-op or study abroad experience into their plans.  

“The CBAs are central to the successful experience of our students,” says Manning School Dean Sandra Richtermeyer. “We take an approach of continuous improvement when it comes to advising students, and the pandemic has made the advisors’ work even more important.”

Indeed, the advisors say that their conversations with students these days — which students can schedule as one-on-one appointments through the Student Information System — are often about much more than how to add a minor or find an internship.

“Students have been stressed with this change to online learning and a new living environment,” says Towle, who joined the Manning School in 2012. “They are feeling a lot of anxiety, and we want to relieve that as much as possible with one-on-one interactions to help during this time of uncertainty and disruption.”
“We take an approach of continuous improvement when it comes to advising students, and the pandemic has made the advisors’ work even more important.” -Business Dean Sandra Richtermeyer

While talking to a student online can’t fully replicate an in-person meeting, Towle says it can still make an impact. 

“I find a smile and laugh can go a long way on Zoom, which is my goal for each student session,” she says.

All UML freshmen are assigned a CBA within their college and are required to meet with them before registering for classes. (Transfer students are supported by advisors from the Centers for Learning and Academic Support Services, or CLASS, during their first year at UML.)

In their second year, students are also assigned a faculty advisor specific to their concentration who works with them for the duration of their undergraduate studies. Students with more than one concentration have just one faculty advisor.

Maitland joined the advising team in March — one week before the university shut down and moved to remote learning for the remainder of the semester.

“I was able to park in the garage for two days and then it was like, ‘OK, I guess I’m not using this for a while,’” says Maitland, who has over a decade of higher education experience, most recently at the University of New Hampshire, where he oversaw orientation and transition programs for new students.

Maitland will help lighten the workload for Chieh and Towle, who were advising more than 300 students each.
Maitland, whose wife Erin Maitland is an advisor and transfer coordinator in the Honors College, says he came to UML because he’d heard great things about its faculty, staff and students. Although he hasn’t had a chance to meet many of them in person yet, he’s enjoyed getting to know students in virtual appointments and drop-in sessions. 

“The students I’ve met have had a lot of positivity. A lot of them are saying how great the faculty have been,” says Maitland, who meets with as many as eight students on a busy advising day. “Some students have brought up challenges — doing a math class online is a big one. I remind them that tutoring is available and that they’re not alone. And it’s also OK to struggle sometimes. Classes are not meant to be easy; they’re meant to challenge you.”

If students weren’t logging in to their classes on the Blackboard learning management system when the university moved to remote learning, the advisors received alerts via UML's Salesforce customer relationship management software.

“We were proactively reaching out to those students to see what kind of services they needed to be successful,” says Chieh, who has also worked with her fellow CBAs and Assoc. Dean Jennifer Percival to produce webinars updating faculty members on new policies and procedures for advising. “The technology is very helpful to facilitate what we’re doing.”

When Chieh joined what was then the College of Management 17 years ago, she was the only undergraduate advisor. She marvels at how much the Manning School has grown — and how well everyone has dealt with the current challenges.

“When everything moved online, I emailed all my advisees and told them that I miss seeing them on campus,” Chieh says. “I’ll be very happy when I can see them face-to-face in person again.”