A Conversation with Donna Anderson, Recently Retired World Campus Academic Adviser

The Penn State World Campus Academic Advising and Student Disability Services (AA&SDS) unit has come a long way since its formation, and recently retired Donna Anderson has been an academic adviser through most of this time. Donna joined Penn State more than two decades ago in November 2000, when there were only 3 other advisers alongside her. At the time, Penn State World Campus only offered 3 associate degree programs and a handful of undergraduate certificate programs, and it now offers more than 175 degree and certificate programs. Donna retired as an academic adviser in December 2021, and AA&SDS have honored her twenty-one years of service by renaming their internal Advising roundtable “The Donna Anderson Roundtable.” The Advising Roundtable serves as an opportunity for advisers to discuss case studies, review and understand policy and procedures, and explore topics that support their work as members of the higher education community.

We spoke with Donna to learn about her experiences and benefit from her seasoned insights.

What major changes has World Campus Academic Advising gone through since you began?

As courses transitioned to online, there was large growth in the number of students. At the same time, we were increasing the degrees offered through World Campus. Early in my career, advisers also served as the admissions counselors. We didn’t have readiness assessments, New Student Orientation, tutoring, mental health services, or financial aid counselors dedicated to online students. Leadership has continued to support the expansion of the services for students, which allowed advisers to focus more on the students’ academic needs. We have been able to dedicate advisers in specific degree programs and student populations (i.e., military, under-resourced, disability services). 

What did you value most in your role as an adviser? 

Academic advisers choose this career because they want to help others succeed with their academic goals. Many of us had an adviser(s) who had an impact on our lives, and we want Penn State World Campus students to have the same experience. I valued the opportunity to support World Campus students on their academic journeys. 

Why is advising particularly useful for World Campus students? 

Many World Campus students are busy completing their course work while handling multiple responsibilities at home. Online students may never step foot on a physical Penn State campus. Having an adviser to help students navigate the departments, policies, and processes at a distance is such a valuable service. It takes time to understand all the academic policies and how they relate to various situations. Consulting with your adviser is important, especially when policies are time-sensitive.

What tips can students use to stay on top of their studies? 

College is a big investment of your time and money. To maximize your academic success, remember to: 

  1. Read your Penn State email. (We send important information, and if the message is not read, students miss opportunities that were available to them.)
  2. Make sure to keep your contact information updated in LionPATH.
  3. Meet with your adviser EARLY to plan for the upcoming semester.
  4. Schedule early to make sure you can get the courses you need to make academic progress.
  5. Contact your adviser if things arise during the semester that are affecting your academic success. The earlier you reach out, the more opportunity to explore resources and academic options available to you.

What advice do you give to students when working with an academic adviser? 

Use Starfish to schedule your appointments with your adviser and communicate the goals/information you want to discuss in the meeting. This helps your adviser prepare relevant information for your appointment. Be “mentally present” during your appointment. Try to find a quiet place with access to a computer. This will help you to get the most out of the meeting.

Note: You may request a Zoom appointment. This is a great way to meet and make a connection with your adviser.

Finally, what advice do you have for new advisers?

Education is important to this department. New and promoted advisers go through advising training created by World Campus. We have continued learning opportunities through internal roundtables, Penn State conferences, and national professional associations. Many World Campus advisers participate in publishing articles and presenting to other professional advisers at conferences. The more you get involved in the educational trainings, the more you will see growth in your advising skills.