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School of Engineering advising team optimized to meet students’ needs

October 25, 2019 - By Kim Delker

The University of New Mexico School of Engineering advising team has seen some changes the last several years, all in an effort to simplify the process of meeting the needs of thousands of students each semester.

The School of Engineering has more than 1,900 undergraduates in six different departments, and each of those students needs guidance to get through an often-complex system of classes, prerequisites, deadlines, majors, grades, credits, services and more in what is known as one of the most-challenging curricula at UNM.

Storehouse group
The advising team recently voluntered at Storehouse NM. From left to right are Freeman, Elias Medina (academic advisor with the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering), Sarah Dominguez and Krista Navarrette.

In the School of Engineering, academic advisors are located in each of the departments, ready to help students along their journey.

Since fall 2016, Quinton Freeman has been with the School as manager of advising, tasked with overseeing all of the School’s student advisement efforts. The restructuring of the undergraduate advisement was part of an effort to better align the School’s advisement efforts with that of the university. Previously, staff in the Engineering Student Success Center had advised pre-major engineering students. As part of a university-wide effort to standardize advisement, students now receive their advisement in their major department from their freshman year. Freeman works with the School’s academic advisors in conjunction with each department’s department administrator.

Freeman has been in the student development and advising field for many years. He holds master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Idaho State University, working there as director of academics as well as a student development coordinator. Additionally, he has academic advisement experience from Fresno State University. At UNM, he was previously at Lobo Village, where he was a manager of campus communities. He also has an extensive background in advisement, most notably with UNM Athletics as their assistant and interim director of student development.

Freeman said one of his big focuses the last few years has been to make the advising process easier to navigate for students.

“Before, a lot of the process was paper-driven, so the emphasis has been put on simplifying the process so students can more efficiently communicate with their advisor and eliminate unneeded steps and frustration,” he said.

For the last year, a revamped website on the School of Engineering site has helped process communications from academic advisors, giving both current students and prospective students a quick and easy way to reach advisors.

Freeman worked in conjunction with the School of Engineering website administrator to revamp the website to simplify information for current students, prospective students and transfer students, adding electronic versions of forms and student processes online instead of paper as was in the past. now includes information on academic review and standing, curriculum worksheets, dismissals and petitions, and an FAQ section.

Communication has also been a big focus of the academic advising team. Since academic advisors are physically located in the departments, Freeman started meeting twice monthly with all of the undergraduate advisors in an effort to bring up common issues and promote communication. They also recently participated in a team-building activity, volunteering at the Storehouse New Mexico during fall break.

Krista Navarrette, an academic advisor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering, has been in her role since 2017, joining the School of Engineering after working a few years in the College of Arts and Sciences. She holds a master’s degree from University of Nebraska - Lincoln in higher education administration and student affairs. She has enjoyed seeing the engineering academic advisors work more closely together the last couple of years. She’s also appreciated the opportunity to get more involved in University-wide advising meetings.

“Quinton has given us the opportunity to attend meetings with him and learn important advisement information first-hand,” Navarrette said.

Quinton and Nicole
Nicole Bingham, academic advisor for the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering, staffs a table with Freeman during the 2019 School of Engineering Open House event.

She also sees a big difference in making the process easier for students by putting forms and information online, saving students time and trouble, as well as freeing up the advisors to be able to work on other projects that benefit students. She said she’s been able to implement programs for students such as peer mentoring, tutoring, and being a resource for students to help them navigate the resources available to them.

“I’m passionate about students,” she said. “That’s why I’m here.”

Sarah Dominguez, an academic advisor at UNM since 2008 and at the School of Engineering since 2015, shares the same passion for helping students. She works with students in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and Spanish from UNM, so she feels she can relate to some of the challenges that engineering students face in a STEM discipline. UNM has been a part of her life since she was a child and plans to someday retire from UNM, so she considers UNM “home.”

Dominguez says she enjoys the way the School of Engineering has restructured advisement. It allows departments to have some autonomy with advisement as each set of engineering students has a unique set of needs that can be best met directly in the department, while at the same time maintaining some consistency with general School of Engineering policy which is coordinated by Freeman. The restructure allows her to be able to be a resource for students “from day one” in their journey and feels that having advisement based in the departments beginning in the freshman year has provided a lot of continuity in the advisor-student relationship.

“I’ve been in this role for four years, and it’s been great to get the chance to see a whole cohort of students go through from beginning to end and to have been a positive role in their journey. It’s very satisfying.”

Freeman said that the academic advisors still work very closely with the Engineering Student Success Center (and his office is located there), headed now by Elsa Maria Castillo and previously Steve Peralta for many years. The Engineering Student Success Center provides students with tutoring and mentoring services, along with information on scholarships, internships, networking events, and student organizations.

Although academic advisors are not directly involved in recruitment, there has been a growing effort in recent years to strengthen — and in some cases, re-establish — relationships with two-year schools like Central New Mexico Community College (CNM), Santa Fe Community College and the UNM branch campuses. The focus has been on easing students’ transitions to UNM and to create a presence where they may not have one. In some cases, he said, two-year colleges were promoting out-of-state universities and not UNM, so he’s tried to remedy that. He has been involved in some transfer day events and wants to continue to build relationships with the UNM branch campuses around the state in Valencia, Gallup, Taos and Los Alamos.

Freeman and the School of Engineering advisement team — along with Castillo and Charles Fleddermann, associate dean for academic affairs and community engagement — has also been revamping the content and structure of the new student orientation for freshmen engineering students, which happens each summer, giving new engineering students valuable information to increase their chances of success and retention.

Freeman said that he will continue to put an emphasis on building relationships to ease the transfer process, with the goal of growing our enrollment, as well as continue the positive relationship with the departmental advisors to help in the retention of students year to year, which has an impact in the School’s enrollment numbers.

“I want to continue to ensure we are meeting the needs of the students seeking our degree programs and work to create an experience that streamlines services to make the process seamless for students,” he said.