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Source: Melinda Sinn, 785-532-5888,
Web site:
News release prepared by Rosanna Vail, 785-532-2720,

Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009


MANHATTAN -- Several academic advisers at Kansas State University have taken the expertise they acquired from K-State's academic advising distance education programs and applied it to their advising jobs at the university.

With the National Academic Advising Association's executive office based at K-State since 1990, it was only natural to work with K-State, a leader in distance education, when it came to developing distance programs for a graduate certificate and a master's degree in academic advising. The programs are designed for working professionals who can't afford to quit their jobs to go back to school. They focus on the topic advisers should be most concerned about: the student.

"Having a professional adviser, someone who is really connected to the campus and knows the services that are available, can be very important for a student," said Jessica Bigger, lead adviser for K-State's A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

Bigger earned her bachelor's in secondary education in 1999 from K-State and then worked in a management position with Sylvan Learning Center in North Carolina. But she realized her passion was helping students on a face-to-face basis, so she came back to K-State to work on a master's degree in college student development. As a graduate student, she found work with the National Academic Advising Association.

"I became very familiar with their programs and was there when they were developing the advising graduate certificate program," Bigger said.

Once the graduate certificate program was approved, Bigger jumped right in and found even more information that would help her in her career as an adviser, especially as she trained other advisers in K-State's A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

"Understanding the background and the different advising systems at other universities helped me develop ideas for change in our department," Bigger said. "One of the big changes I've made is to require that students have a graduation plan so they know what courses they're going to take. Advisers are not meant to be used solely as course schedulers. They're there to make sure you're doing things that will help you be successful in the future."

Brad Cunningham earned his bachelor's degree in psychology from K-State but had no clue what career path he'd follow. With a mother who worked for nearly a decade as an academic adviser -- five of those years at K-State's College of Arts and Sciences -- and with both parents later becoming employees of the National Academic Advising Association, he realized the direction he wanted to take.

"My mom said, 'Well, you like working with people, you like helping people and you like the collegiate environment. Why not become an academic adviser?'" Cunningham said. "So I looked at the program and it seemed to be right up my alley."

Cunningham decided to apply for the academic advising master's degree program. As an undergraduate, he'd worked for the K-State Student Union in the bowling alley, and he said his experience there has ended up working to his advantage.

"The students I spoke to could really be honest and let go," Cunningham said. "Now, as an adviser, I see them in a different role and they're not as open. But because of that earlier experience, I'm able to find ways around that and get them to open up."

Cunningham also took a job as a graduate assistant at the National Academic Advising Association. He had the opportunity to attend national conferences and make some important professional connections. He said it was helpful to be able to connect with current advisers, faculty members and administrators through the online program. But he pointed out that going to class online is very different from anything traditional students experience.

"One of the greatest strengths about the program is that it connects you with some of the greatest minds in academic advising," Cunningham said.

Cunningham completed his master's degree in 2007 and is now forging a new kind of connection with K-State students as an adviser with the College of Business Administration. He sees his advisees through their entire undergraduate career and views each meeting as an opportunity to teach his students something. And true to what he learned in his academic advising program, he has found that every student is different in regard to just how much guidance they need.

"Some students take the initiative to organize their courses, other students come in and need you to do a four-year plan and everything in between," Cunningham said. "Taking that time to work with students directly, solving those delicate issues and learning everything there is to learn about academic advising will be very important later on."

More information about K-State's distance programs in academic advising is available online at or by contacting the K-State Division of Continuing Education at 1-800-622-2578 or