Being an advisor for an online program has been a learning adventure since Maria Garcia De la Cruz stepped into the role in summer 2022.
“I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to connect with online students,” she said. “The first couple months I definitely struggled with that. I realized it’s because I wasn’t staying true to myself and showing my personality. I felt like a robot.”
Before joining the School of Nursing team, Garcia De la Cruz advised high school students in the TRIO program. The “beauty of advising” is that it’s adaptable and unique for every department, she said, so she changed up her approach for RN-BS students.
She rewrote automatic reply emails to be in her voice, and she started crafting regular “Words of the Week” posts on her advising portal to share a fun fact about herself or a snapshot of her weekend.
“I want them to know that I’m more than just a screen and I know that they’re more than just a student,” she said. “I’m not just an advisor, I have a personality, and the students should be able to see that in a professional way.”
Garcia De la Cruz wants to support students as holistically as possible. Whenever she meets one-on-one, she makes a point to connect with them on a human level first before sharing information or resources.
“I know my passion is helping others, but I also want to build connections,” she said. “My students are not here [in Boise], they’re all over the country. I want them to feel like they are part of the Bronco community, but most importantly, that they’re part of the School of Nursing.”
A day in the life of an online advisor
Garcia De la Cruz always starts her day by making sure her environment is peaceful and relaxing. This helps focus and motivates her throughout the day, since she spends so much of it on the computer or telephone.
Guiding and tracking student progress
Her day-to-day responsibilities vary, but each semester she does regular check-in’s on every student, making sure they’re on track to graduate and their information is up-to-date in the online databases. She also reviews applications for admissions, guiding potential Broncos as they navigate the application and registration processes.
Emails, emails, emails
Online advisors spend a lot of time answering emails. Garcia De la Cruz said sometimes they are simple questions, like when a student wants to make sure they’re on track to graduate.
Sometimes questions are more complex, such as academic adjustments. For these, she might have to use different databases to cross-check transcripts and make sure no information was accidentally omitted. If a change is needed, she undergoes a multi-step process involving forms to communicate necessary changes to the registrar’s office.
No matter what she’s working on, her goal is to reply to students as soon as possible so they get the answers they need.
Availability and individuality
Although she’s busy, Garcia De la Cruz’s schedule is adaptable. If a student calls in the middle of the day needing anywhere from five minutes to an hour to chat, she doesn’t worry. She has the availability to devote her time to one-on-one advising.
However, not every student wants a hands-on approach, and Garcia De la Cruz respects that, too. She just makes sure they know: she’s there should they ever need her.
“I reach out to students, even the ones that don’t ever need me,” she said. “I always tell them, ‘You may not need the resource now, but if you need it later on, it’s still available…I’m here to advocate for you and help you.’”