Thank you for contributing to the creation of a vibrant campus life by advising a student organization at UMBC! Campus Life greatly appreciates the time and effort you put forth to helping our students learn and grow through their student organization experience.
Involvement in a student organization can play an important role in the development and learning of our students. Research shows that students engaging in co-curricular involvement perform better academically and are generally happier with their college experience. The relationships built between students and their advisors can be one of the most important pieces of this experience, and the discussions you have with them are often some of their most influential learning opportunities.
If you have been asked to serve in the role of advisor to a student organization, we encourage you to look through this information to familiarize yourself with the position. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to email Tori Ciorra (email@example.com), Coordinator for Student Organizations.
Thank you for your committing your time and energy to creating strong co-curricular learning opportunities for UMBC students. We truly appreciate your contributions to our campus life community.
Campus Life hosts periodic Advisor Roundtables, which are created and co-facilitated by fellow advisors and serve as an opportunity to explore a number of important topics, including relationship building, conflict resolution, goals setting, and strategic planning.
Each advisor perceives his/her relation to a student organization differently. Some advisors play very active roles, attending meetings, working with student officers, and assisting in program planning and development. Others maintain a more distant relationship to the organization. It is expected, however, that each advisor will maintain some regular contact with his/her organization. The goal for the advisor is to develop a proper balance between being uninvolved on the one hand, and taking charge of the organization on the other.
An advisor accepts responsibility for keeping informed about activities of the organization and for advising officers of the organization on the appropriateness and general merits of policies and activities. However, advisors are not responsible for the actions or policies of student organizations–the students themselves are solely responsible. Advisors should be both accessible and interested, and should provide appropriate counsel to a group and its members.
Given the myriad of purposes, activities, and objectives of various student groups, the role of the advisor will vary to some degree between groups. The purpose of this section is to outline the basic roles of an advisor. Since groups vary in their expectations and needs, it is important that you, as an advisor, develop an understanding with the organization as to the nature of your involvement. The advisor and group should agree on a set of expectations of one another from the onset and should write this list down as a guiding agreement between the group and the advisor. The Advisor Role Questionnaire can serve as a starting point for this discussion.
Inevitably, students are going to join the organization with different agendas, goals, and ideas about how things should function and the direction they should be taking. When working with students who have come in to conflict, it may be necessary to meet with them and have them discuss their issues with each other. In many cases, it may be necessary to remind them that they both want what is in the best interest of the organization. Ask them how they think they can work together, point out the organization’s mission, and ask how their conduct is helping the group achieve its mission.
Sometimes, one student may be causing problems with other students. In many cases this student may not realize that his/her actions are causing a problem. In this case, speaking with the student individually could be helpful. Chances are that no one has met with the student previously and discussed how his/her attitudes are impacting other people and how those attitudes or actions can be changed to make everyone feel better. In many cases, the student will appreciate honest feedback.
As an advisor, your role of educator will often come through the role modeling of behavior, guiding the student in reflection of their actions, and being there to answer questions. One of the most difficult actions to take as an advisor is to do nothing, but sometimes this can be the most important action of all. Allow the students to make their decisions even if they do not agree with your ideas. Sometimes, students will succeed; other times, they may fail. The key is to return to the role of the reflective agent and give the students a safe place to reflect on their experiences.
Many students will come to see their advisor as a mentor and the success of these relationships can last many years and be rewarding for both the student and the advisor. If the student is seeking an education and a career in your field, you may be asked to assist in his/her professional development. To be effective in this capacity, you will need knowledge of their academic program and profession, a genuine interest in the personal and professional development of new professionals, and a willingness to connect students to a network of professionals. You may be approached to review resumes, to connect students with community resources, or to be a sounding board for their ideas of what they want to accomplish in the field.
At times, students will seek out someone to assist with their personal development. In this capacity, a mentor will have a basic understanding of student needs and perspectives, a desire to challenge students intellectually and emotionally while providing support to meet the challenge, and the ability to listen to students’ verbal and nonverbal communication. Students may want to talk to you about family or relationship issues, conflicts they are having with other students, or to have conversations about their ideas and thoughts on different subjects.
Student organizations operate under policies, procedures, and rules. At times, students may not be aware of these policies and they will do things in an inappropriate manner. The more you know about these policies the better advising you can give to the students on their plans.
As an advisor you will assume numerous roles, not all of which are mentioned here. A key idea to remember is that you are an advisor not the leader. You provide guidance, insight, and perspective to students as they work on projects, but you should not be doing the work. Students will learn if they are engaged. Be careful of being challenged into doing the work for a student project. The students make the decisions, and they are accountable for those decisions, as well as for their successes and failures.
One of the most essential components to learning in “out of classroom” activities is providing time for students to reflect on how and what they are doing. As an advisor, you will want your officers to talk to you about how they think they are performing, their strengths, and their weaknesses. Give them the opportunity to discuss their thoughts on their performance. Then be honest with them. Let them know when you agree with their self-perceptions and in a tactful manner let them know when you disagree. Remember, any criticism you provide students should be constructive and you will want to provide concrete examples of actions the student took that seem to contradict their self-perceptions. When students discuss their weaknesses, ask them how they can improve those areas and how you can help them. Students usually have the answer to what they need; they just don’t like to ask for help. Remember to have students reflect on their successes and failures.
A good way to encourage reflection among the officers of your organization is by using rubrics. This allows you to examine a specific area together, and to allow for self-evaluation, in addition to advisor evaluation. You can also encourage officers to work on them with each other, as a way to provide positive, constructive feedback.
When new officers are elected or new members join the organization, you may need to take the initiative in turning the students from individuals with separate goals and expectations into a team. Team building is important because it enhances the relationships of the students between one another and the advisor. Positive relationships help the organization succeed and to work through conflicts and difficult times.
To accomplish the goal of creating an effective team, it is necessary to conduct a workshop (if you and the students have the time, a full-scale retreat encompassing team building and goal setting could be planned) to engage students in this process. As the advisor, you may consider working with the student officers to develop a plan and to have the students implement it.
Training students in effective techniques for team building will keep students invested in the organization and give them the opportunity to learn what it takes to build a team.
Tips for advising success
In addition to identifying your role(s) within the student organization(s), these tips may further ensure your advising success:
- Be visible and choose to attend group meetings and events. At the same time, know your limits.
- Help students find a balance between activities and their academic responsibilities.
- Share creative suggestions and provide feedback for activities.
- Take an active part in formulating policies through interaction with the organization’s officers and members.
- Model good communication skills and listening skills. Develop good rapport.
- Notice and intervene in situations that might give rise to poor public relations for the student group or university.
- Learn the strengths and weaknesses of the group. Offer support when necessary, but also allow students to make their own mistakes and learn from them.
- Plan and encourage attendance at leadership trainings.
Tips for managing risks with student organizations
As an advisor of a student organization, you are the university’s representative regarding the organization’s activities. As such, you are expected to give reasonable and sound advice to your organization about such things as programs, use of facilities and operational procedures.
If you have reason to question an action taken by the organization, express your concern directly to the organization in writing, including the date, a suggested alternative to the questionable action, a warning, etc.
It is important to remember that, in general, while we need to be concerned about liability, we can seriously damage the educational process by being paranoid about it. Just as there is no specific statement that explains faculty liability for every possible classroom incident, there is none that covers all the possible situations student organizations might encounter. If you have concerns about a situation unique to your organization or to a specific event sponsored by the organization you advise, please contact Tori Ciorra (firstname.lastname@example.org), Coordinator for Student Organizations. Although there is no way to completely eliminate risk and legal liability associated with a program or event, there are ways to reduce risk and provide a safer environment for program participants.
The information included below is a brief outline of ways to identify and reduce risks.
Tips to identify and reduce risk:
- Work with Event and Conference Services on the details of your activity.
- Consult with Campus Life
- Consult with the Officer of General Counsel.
- Identify specific risks involved in the event. These could include physical risks and liability risks.
- Assess the capability of the group to manage risk.
- Develop a plan of action in reducing risk.
- Purchase additional liability insurance
- Ask participants to complete liability waivers, if necessary
- Hiring a third party vendor or contractor
- Provide advanced training
Canceling the event if the conditions are dangerous or the group is not prepared to assume full responsibility for the risk involved.
What is hazing and how do I identify high-pressure groups?
As an advisor, it is important to convey a zero-tolerance hazing policy.
Hazing is a very serious matter that is a violation of state law, UMBC policy, and UMBC values. It can occur in any student organization, and all student organizations have a role in preventing and eliminating hazing at UMBC. Hazing, as defined by UMBC, is recklessly or intentionally doing any act or causing any situation which, for the purpose of gaining or maintaining membership and/or association with a student organization:
- Involves, causes, or results in the physical mistreatment or harm of any person;
- Involves, causes, or results in the psychological mistreatment or harm of any person;
- Has the potential for causing harm to the health of any person;
- Interferes with academic pursuits of any person;
- Involves, causes, or results in the abuse and/or theft of the personal property and/or effects of any person; or doing any act or causing any situation which recklessly or intentionally subjects a student to the risk of serious bodily injury for the purpose of initiation into a student organization.
You can find UMBC’s complete hazing policy here.
As an advisor, it is important to be aware of early signs of high-pressure groups. Unfortunately, not all organizations may operate exactly as they present themselves. High pressure groups use recruiting tactics that are deceitful, manipulative, and coercive. They typically are very persistent in their recruiting efforts and look to recruit college students who they perceive as vulnerable and in transition.
If you are concerned that your organization, or another organization on campus, is utilizing tactics indicative of high-pressure groups, please visit High Pressure Groups for more information on warning signs, red flags, and who to contact with questions and concerns.
Finances and fundraising information
Student organizations can obtain money in two different ways: 1) applying through Finance Board and 2) fundraising (including Gritstarter and corporate sponsorships). Any officer wishing to request or raise funds must complete in-person Treasurer Training, which includes information about fundraising policies and procedures.
If your organization wishes to pursue fundraising outside of the SGA Finance Board, the advisor can be a helpful resource for brainstorming ideas. Campus Life has compiled fundraising ideas, but feel free to suggest additional ideas to your organization. In order to launch a crowdfunding campaign or secure corporate sponsorships, officers must email the Office of Institutional Advancement via email@example.com.
What steps can I take to resolve conflicts within my student organization?
At certain times, you may find yourself needing to encourage your organization’s leaders to think of ways to help increase group cohesion among members, to create a more positive group dynamic. If officers approach you with concerns, you may find the following questions helpful in facilitating a productive dialogue:
- Do the officers know what their members want?
- Does everyone have a strong, positive feeling about the organization?
- Does everyone know what the organization’s mission statement is?
- What does the organization, and/or the organization’s officers, have trouble doing?
- How well does the organization’s executive board work together?
- Does the executive board have definite goals?
- What weaknesses need to be addressed, both in the executive board, and in the organization as a whole?
- What does the executive board want their experience to be? What do they want the experiences of the general members to be?
These types of questions do not need to be addressed only if a problem arises, and it can be beneficial to discuss them with officers at the beginning of each semester.
By addressing issues relating to group dynamics, conflicts will hopefully be reduced. However, if conflicts do occur within the group, and you are not sure how to best approach the situation, please do not hesitate to email Tori Ciorra (firstname.lastname@example.org), Coordinators for Student Organization.
Where can I find student organization constitutions and information on elections?
Student organization constitutions explain organization’s purpose, membership requirements, officer structure and election process, and serves as a binding agreement with UMBC. Each constitution also outlines the process required for making amendments to the organization’s constitution. It may be helpful to familiarize yourself with this information so that you can help answer any questions your officers or members may have.
If the student organization you are advising does not have their constitution on file, please email Tori Ciorra (email@example.com), Coordinator for Student Organizations.
Elections for each student organization occur once a year. Article IV, section b of the organization’s constitution outlines if elections are in the fall or spring.
Fall elections: November 15th – 30th (terms begin December 1st)
Spring elections: April 15th – April 30th (terms begin May 1st)
Article IV also outlines what positions the organization is to elect, as well as the duties of each elected position.
How do I transition officers within my student organization?
One of the most important functions of an advisor is to assist in officer transitions. As the constant in the organization, the advisor often has a wealth of institutional history and can help maintain continuity. Investing time in a good officer transition early on will mean less time spent on supporting officers throughout the year.
There are a number of ways to conduct the officer transition. The following examples demonstrate two commonly used methods.
The team effort
The team effort involves the outgoing-officer board, the advisor, and the incoming officer board. This method involves a retreat or series of meetings where outgoing officers pass on important information to incoming officers, including:
- Past records/notebooks/social media passwords (see officer transition guide for more information)
- Completed projects for the past year.
- Upcoming/incomplete projects.
- Challenges and setbacks.
- Anything the new officers need to know to do their job effectively.
The advisor’s role may be to:
- Facilitate discussion and be a sounding board for ideas.
- Organize and provide the structure of a retreat.
- Offer suggestions on various questions.
- Refrain from telling new officers what they should do.
- Fill in the blanks.” If an outgoing officer doesn’t know how something was done, or doesn’t have records to pass on to the new officer, you can help that officer by providing the information he or she doesn’t have.
The structure of a team effort retreat can take many forms. The advisor’s role in this process is to provide historical background when needed, help keep goals specific, attainable and measurable and provide advice on policies and procedures.
While it is ideal to have the outgoing officer team assist in training the incoming officers, often it is up to the advisor to educate the incoming officers. In that situation, there should be a joint meeting of the new officers.
Talk about what the officers hope to accomplish in the forthcoming year. Assess the officer’s role in the organization. What are the expectations of each position? What are the student’s expectations of the position and his/her goals? It could also be helpful to go through the questions related to group cohesion, listed above.