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Student Advising Initiative Update: Additional Details and Background Information


Recommendations designed to transform the student advising experience have been approved and are now moving into the implementation phase. Changes include reorganizing the reporting structure of academic advisors and the addition of new, mobile-friendly technology. Enhancements to career services will be explored further.

Findings and Goals

The Operational Excellence Program diagnostic report released in August 2016 included several key findings about student advising: 

  • Navigating all of the resources available to students can be difficult.
  • Students often have multiple advisers across departments and programs.
  • Most advisers have limited visibility across a student’s full set of needs. 

Student advising was one of the improvement focus areas selected by Dr. Pestello to pursue as part of the Operational Excellence Program. Primary goals included: 

  • Improving undergraduate advising systems, structures and services that support students from program/major selection to job placement.
  • Building off past and current efforts of the Student Government Association to assess and improve advising. 

Initiative Team

To design recommendations to enhance academic advising, Provost Nancy Brickhouse and CFO David Heimburger formed an initiative team to provide diverse work experience and perspective, as well as coordinate with existing leadership groups, such as SGA and Academic Advising Leadership Council. Team members were as follows: 

  • Mark Higgins, Ph.D., Dean, Cook School of Business (sponsor)
  • Lisa Israel, Assistant Dean of Students and Director, Student Success Center (sponsor)
  • Debra Lohe, Ph.D., Director, Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning (project manager)
  • Margaret Bultas, Ph.D., R.N., Assistant Professor, School of Nursing
  • Jay Haugen, University Registrar
  • Grant Mayfield, Student, Junior, Student Government Association Vice President for Academic Affairs (2016-2017)
  • Lisa Michigan, M.A., Academic Advisor, Parks College
  • Denise Sleet, Ph.D., Assistant Dean, College of Arts and Sciences 

Community Input

The Student Advising Initiative Team sought input and expertise from many stakeholders through a variety of methods, including interviews, focus groups, seven community forums and online surveys. Advisors, deans, vice presidents and members of the Operation Excellence Program steering committee provided feedback as well. 

Recommended Strategies

Following the extensive community engagement processes, the initiative design team developed a set of recommendations that were reviewed and approved by Provost Brickhouse and CFO Heimburger and presented to President Pestello in December. Dr. Pestello concluded that six key strategies recommended by the design team will move forward for implementation planning: 

  • Investing in innovative, mobile-friendly technologies to change the student advising experience and to empower students in their academic planning
  • Coordinating academic advising and support for advisors across campus through the Office of the Provost
  • Embedding academic support teams within the schools and colleges to maintain and ensure strong relationships with academic programs and faculty
  • Enhancing the role of academic advisors to promote an educational model of advising
  • Establishing predictable, common, University-wide expectations for curriculum planning, course registration, and supporting roles and functions
  • Empowering colleges and schools to develop and implement approaches to faculty advising and mentorship that fit their own contexts but are not tied to course registration functions 

Implementation - Technology

University Registrar Jay Haugen is leading the effort to select new mobile-friendly technology that will make it easier for students to plan classes, switch majors, add minors and transfer credits. The goal is to put the technology in the hands of the advisors and students in the fall. 

Haugen is also collaborating with advisors across campus to assess four different cloud-based technology platforms for advising. Vendor demonstrations were completed Jan. 19. After a product is selected, the provost will appoint an implementation planning team to guide customization and installation of the new advising technology. 

The Registrar’s Office will continue to examine other opportunities to streamline registration, course add/drops, course wait-listing, and other policies and procedures identified as desired improvements by the student advising initiative team. These improvements will facilitate installation of new advising technology and the required and planned upgrade to the university’s student information system. 

Implementation - Organizational Structure Changes

Dr. Pestello approved a new structure in which academic advisors at SLU will report centrally to a new assistant provost for student advising, but remain embedded within their respective college or school to ensure strong relationships with academic programs and faculty. 

In the coming weeks, the provost will appoint an interim assistant provost for student advising, whose responsibilities will include overseeing the reorganization, advocating on behalf of the academic advisors, attending to the advisors’ professional development needs, and developing an organizational structure that allows our advisors best to serve students. 

Once appointed, it’s anticipated that the new interim assistant provost will assemble an implementation team, which will consult with stakeholders and make recommendations concerning the reorganization process. The timeline for beginning and completing the reorganization process will depend upon the appointment of the interim assistant provost and the work of the implementation team. 

It’s important to note that many focus areas described in last summer’s diagnostic report are budget neutral, with a focus on improving processes and reducing bureaucracy. Cost reduction is not an expected outcome. Student advising is one of these focus areas, and there is no goal to reduce staff or other costs associated with SLU’s advising services. 

Further Exploration into Career Services

The student advising initiative design team also recommended integrating career services at SLU with academic advising. Dr. Pestello concluded that more investigation was necessary to ensure that a new advising system includes sufficient focus on elevating career readiness and job placement for undergraduate students across all academic programs. Further investigation is also needed to ensure robust opportunities for SLU students to participate in internships, service learning opportunities and other experiential programs that may be critical to our students’ success. 

Dr. Pestello has appointed Justin Daffron, S.J., assistant to the president for growth strategies, to lead an exploration of the delivery of career services at SLU and the ways in which those services might be enhanced and possibly integrated with academic advising. Father Daffron will draw upon his leadership experience at Loyola University Chicago to address with a new team several key priorities for career services at SLU.

  • Analyze and make recommendations for quality improvements aligned with best practices and the integrated service model of delivery envisioned by the student advising design team.
  • Analyze the current state-of-staff resources relative to peer institutions.
  • Identify a new physical location for the current university career services office to heighten visibility.
  • Analyze the current state of intra-University collaboration and reporting lines in career services operations and make recommendations for quality improvements.
  • Develop a strategy for leveraging SLU alumni in support of career services programming and employment of SLU graduates.
  • Determine a strategy for increasing the number of students participating in internships, fellowships, research and work-study positions. 

Recommendations that achieve these objectives will be shared with the community and advanced through the Operational Excellence Program’s decision-making process during the next few months. To learn more, email Father Daffron at


To provide input on student advising or any other Operational Excellence initiative, you can email the program team or use the online feedback form. You may also contact SLU colleagues who are working on any of the active focus areas; initiative team rosters are found on the program website

About the Operational Excellence Program

Launched in February 2016, Operational Excellence is an institution-wide initiative designed to make SLU more efficient and effective, and identify opportunities for increased revenue and growth — all to enable the priorities identified in the University's strategic plan. The program stems from Initiative Five of the strategic plan that calls for us foster a culture of excellence, effectiveness and efficiency deeply rooted in our institutional mission and Catholic, Jesuit values. For the 2017-2018 academic year, the Operational Excellence program is focused on revenue growth and process improvements.