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My Personal Advising Philosophy as a 23 year old Graduate Assistant

New Professionals and Graduate Students Graduate
June 1, 2021 Melissa MacPherson

When I started  my time as a Masters student and graduate assistant at West Chester University I was equally excited as intimidated. In my role I would be advising a student group on campus and this was something I had never done before. I knew advising students who were only a few years younger than me could be challenging but I was looking forward to growing as an advisor and beginning my career as a higher education professional.  I wanted to find the balance between mentorship and friendship to help students feel supported and pushed to reach their personal goals.Through directly working with my students and my coursework in the Higher Education Policy and Student Affairs program I was able to begin shaping my personal advising philosophy. Advising and supporting students sets them up for success not only in the classroom but outside of the classroom as well. Below are what guides my practice as an advisor and supporter for students. 

Servant Leadership (serving with and for others): I attended a Jesuit institution for my undergraduate degree. During that time I became aware of and in awe of the Jesuit teaching ideals and principles. One Ignation teaching principle really stuck with me, serving “with and for others”. Being a person with and for others means being someone who values collaborative service and working with others to fight social injustices. For my advising philosophy I wish to combine this idea of being a person with and for others and the idea of servant leadership from Robert Greenleaf (as cited in NACADA Journal, 2007). Being a servant leader according to Greenleaf  means being fully invested in the purpose of the university, which is to serve the needs of students. Combining that with this Jesuit idea allows for me to have purpose in my practice as well as ensure my interactions with students are not one way transactions. My purpose is to serve and support students, yes, but the best way to do so is to work alongside them on their own personal journeys. By working with and for my students and acting as a servant leader I will create a space of growth, trust, companionship and mentorship. 

Personalized learning (meeting a student where they are): No two students are the same. To be a successful advisor I believe I need to take the time to know each individual student for who they are. Being able to actively listen to their goals and incorporate their personal lived experiences into their plan allows for a personalized learning experience that is built just for them. Another Jesuit ideal pushes this philosophy further. The idea of Cura Personalis, care for the whole person. I strive to see each student as a whole person and care for every aspect of them in order to better support and motivate them. I find what motivates them, what encourages them and what makes them unique. By doing so I am able to help them create a personal learning experience and set goals based on what excites them. 

Utilize Storytelling: Some of the most influential advisors in my life were the ones who sat down with me and shared their stories. Hearing their struggles and triumphs made me see them as people, not just mentors. I trusted them with my feelings and with fully sharing my story once they opened up to me about their lives. When advising students I believe they should not only know me as their advisor and professional, but as the person I am and the life I have lived. Being an authentic storyteller creates a safe and vulnerable environment that will allow for students to trust me with their struggles. It also allows for them to see first hand someone who has had their share of heartache and struggles when it comes to education, but how they were able to persevere.

Advise with Empathy: To have empathy is to feel with someone. In order to be a person for others, we must be and sit with them in their lived experiences, the painful and the good. Having empathy is sitting with a student in their emotions. Telling them they are valid for what they are feeling and going through and reminding them you are a resource who is here to listen and support them through their struggles. Being an empathetic advisor is to see the whole student. Their unique perspectives and how their lives have shaped them into the student they are before you. It’s validating their emotions and experiences and working with them towards their goals and aspirations. 

Author: Melissa MacPherson (she/her/hers)

West Chester University  

[email protected] 

Loves her dog pumpkin, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and higher education and student affairs!



McClellan, J. L (2007). The advisor as servant: The theoretical and philosophical relevance of servant leadership to academic advising. NACADA Journal 1; 27 (2): 41–49. doi: https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-27.2.41 

Wright, V. H.,Being People for Others. Ignatian Spirituality. https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/being-people-for-others/.  

Jesuit education. (n.d.). Retrieved May 21, 2021, from https://www.xavier.edu/jesuit-education/index