The Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering in the College of Engineering; the Department of Apparel, Housing, and Resource Management in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences; and University Academic Advising Center will receive the 2007 University Exemplary Department Awards at ceremonies to be held Tuesday, Nov. 27 at The Inn at Virginia Tech.

Presented annually since 1994, the University Exemplary Department Award recognizes the work of departments or programs that maintain a first-class teaching and learning environment for students and faculty.

This year, the awards were presented to departments that developed and sustained innovative and effective departmental approaches to advising at the undergraduate and/or graduate levels.

“The Exemplary Department Award program is one of the most important recognition programs at Virginia Tech because it acknowledges the collaborative efforts and successes of teams of dedicated colleagues,” said Ron Daniel, associate provost for undergraduate education, who oversees the awards program. “These group efforts make the university stronger, and benefit the students we all seek to serve. This year’s theme, centered on advising, is a critical signal at the importance of advising as we pursue VT Pathways for Learning.”

At the Nov. 27 awards ceremony, Provost Mark McNamee will present a plaque and $20,000 awards to Don Taylor, professor and head of the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, and a plaque and a $10,000 awards to both Kimberly Brown, director of the University Academic Advising Center and to LuAnn R. Gaskill, professor and head of the Department of Apparel, Housing, and Resource Management, on behalf of their respective programs.

Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, College of Engineering

The more than 350 undergraduates in the College of Engineering’s Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering are served by a comprehensive system of advising strategies supported by faculty, staff, and administrators.

As one senior wrote in nominating the department for the award, the department is “almost like a family, where everyone tries their hardest to help everyone else succeed.”

Undergraduate advising in industrial and systems engineering is led by Eileen Van Aken, associate department head and undergraduate program director, and Joyce Vest, academic and career advisor. Since Vest came to the department in 2005, she and Van Aken, with the aid of the department’s Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, have revamped their traditional advising and assessment tools and developed new methods of communicating with students.

The group re-designed the department’s graduation check sheet — used as a course planning guide — to more clearly define prerequisites, required courses, and electives. Another primary advising tool, the ISE Undergraduate Handbook, is updated and distributed annually.

In addition to providing critical information to undergraduates, the department uses several methods to obtain direct student feedback. The annual ISE Undergraduate Student Survey solicits students’ perceptions of the industrial engineering capabilities they have learned in their courses and of their satisfaction with undergraduate program components, including teaching and advising. The survey, now distributed to all undergraduates rather than just seniors, is used to identify program and curriculum improvements.

In early 2007, the department held its first “town hall” meeting to provide two-way communication and networking opportunities for students and faculty. Town hall meetings are now being held each fall semester.

The department also recently launched the ISE Ambassador Program. Sixteen students were selected to represent the department at open houses and recruiting events, to provide input on electives and curriculum, and to help update recruiting materials.

With the department’s support, undergraduates are among the most active nationally in their professional organizations — the Institute of Industrial Engineers; Human Factors and Ergonomics Society; and Alpha Pi Mu, the industrial engineering honor society.

Rounding out the undergraduate experience is the role faculty play in leading students in hands-on learning. The ISE 4994 Undergraduate Research course provides opportunities to work with faculty on research projects, and the number of students participating in research has doubled. In the required ISE capstone senior design courses, faculty advise student project teams and work collaboratively on real-world problems submitted each year by outside companies.

Department Head Don Taylor summed up the re-invigorated undergraduate advising strategy: “We solicit input from many constituencies, we take the input very seriously, we utilize it to make improvements, we measure our progress toward our goals, and we always put the student first.”

The Department of Apparel, Housing, and Resource Management, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences

Faculty advisors engage in a comprehensive, collaborative process of assisting and empowering students to make informed educational, career, and life decisions. The advisors recognize the importance of networking, and succeed in connecting students with professionals in business, industry, government, and non-profit agencies. Perhaps most importantly, they challenge students to take control of their lives, to think more broadly, to explore possibilities, and to develop life-long learning and management skills.

“Faculty and staff in the department are clearly student focused,” said Department Head LuAnn Gaskill. “We have a long history of addressing student needs at a high level of engagement.”

Faculty advisors maintain an “open door” policy and encourage e-mail conversations throughout the year. They maintain on-going contact through list-serves offering updates on career tips, notices of employment and internship opportunities, and reminders of on-campus events and student organizational meetings. Department facilities feature a student services office complex which houses freshmen and transfer faculty advisors and staff.

Students are encouraged to join campus clubs and organizations to help build a sense of university community. Faculty recognize that student involvement in citizenship, leadership, and social activities are essential to a well-rounded college student’s life and results in effective interpersonal interaction and the development of social and personal support systems. In turn, faculty members also serve as advisors to various campus organizations, including the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists; the Consumer Interest Organization; the Fashion Merchandising and Design Society; the Association of Residential Property Management; and the Student Chapter of the National Kitchen and Bath Association.

Students interact directly with department contacts in government, non-profit, business and industry and with an active alumni base. They benefit through connections with a wide and diverse spectrum of people, expertise and perspectives—all of which are part of the collective advising process.

With two national advisory boards as well as an annual career fair in the Residential Property Management program area, the department is well armed for value-added learning experiences. Board members are not only essential in helping establish funding for student scholarships, they also offer input on a curriculum that parallels industry needs, set up field studies and study tours, and provide insight into internship and permanent placement positions for students. Students are also strongly encouraged to take advantage of professional (academic and industry) meetings at the state and national level, which is often funded, in part, by departmental funds.

In contrast to many program areas across campus, the majority of the 450 student majors in the department come through on-campus transfers. And once there, students tend to stay. For example, in 2005-2006, 161 students transferred into the department and only 11 students transferred out.

“Our faculty are frequently in contact with students who have yet to identify their academic niche, those who are dissatisfied with their academic or career choices, and those who search for our exact programs,” said Gaskill. “When students approach our faculty seeking answers to routine questions, what they find is a community of knowledgeable, caring mentors. The individual needs of students are not an after-thought in the department, but are viewed as an essential, core, faculty responsibility. A strong focus on student mentoring and development is, and continues to be, an intrinsic departmental value.”

University Academic Advising Center

The University Academic Advising Center has the challenging yet rewarding task of assisting freshmen students as they work to transition successfully into college life. Each semester the University Academic Advising Center guides and supports Virginia Tech’s exploratory students – that group of students that have not decided on an academic major to pursue, have not been accepted into their major of first choice, and those students who have decided to change majors.

For so many of those students guidance, information, and support are vital. Although the process of transition can be daunting University Academic Advising Center advisors must have the knowledge and leadership to know all the details and requirements of every single major Virginia Tech offers. University Academic Advising Center advisors are remarkably informed, incredibly thrifty for their ability to accomplish so much on a relatively small budget, highly organized, and more importantly, valuable resources to the entire university community.

“The University Academic Advising Center has put into practice a philosophy based on the belief that academic advising is yet another mode of educating Virginia Tech students”, says Kimberly Brown, director of the center.

Although the primary goal of the center is to provide high quality academic advising to a sub-population of students who are exploring their options, evidence strongly exists that this department has gone beyond the expectations of a typical advising center.

The University Academic Advising Center educates students through a variety of programs, services, resources. Specifically, the center established Hokie Horizons, a first-year experience program for University Studies students. Hokie Horizons creates a common experience among a group of 20-25 students, centered on shared interests in a variety of majors or career fields. The students that participate are enrolled in a cluster of courses for their first semester.

In the Spring of 2006 the center also began looking at ways for developing an academic planning tool for University Studies that would encourage undecided and exploratory students and give them an opportunity to develop a “big picture” plan of their academic career. Through numerous collaborative efforts within the department, an online course of study model was established to assist students in plotting their college careers.

Despite some initial hesitation from students about the project, student’s feedback is now overwhelming and many have reported great benefits from having a focus, even if they haven’t yet committed to a specific major.

One of the many other important aspects of the center is its commitment to the parents of University Studies students. The center has developed a listserv for parents allowing them to become partners in the process of educating their student while at the same time engaging them in a constructive manner and establishing a positive rapport with advisors.

“I can think of no more fitting recipient of this year’s Exemplary Department Award honoring excellence in advising…than the University Academic Advising Center. It has been my privilege to collaborate and partner with them,” says Susanna Rinehart, associate provost for liberal education and associate professor of theatre arts.

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