History professor at USM takes it upon herself to bring students ‘back into the fold’

University of Southern Maine history professor Libby Bischof works in her office on the Gorham campus on Friday. Each summer, Bischof contacts her advisees who have not enrolled in classes for the fall semester and asks what's preventing them from registering.
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
University of Southern Maine history professor Libby Bischof works in her office on the Gorham campus on Friday. Each summer, Bischof contacts her advisees who have not enrolled in classes for the fall semester and asks what's preventing them from registering. Buy Photo
Posted Aug. 22, 2014, at 4:42 p.m.

GORHAM, Maine — During the summer, University of Southern Maine history professor Libby Bischof contacts each of her advisees who have not enrolled in classes for the fall semester. She asks what prevented them from registering and reminds them to do so before the start of the school year.

“For me, advising is a really central aspect of what I do as a professor,” she said.

She said she hears a variety of explanations for why students are not yet enrolled.

“In a few cases, it’s just, ‘Thanks for the reminder, the summer slipped away, I don’t know why I haven’t registered yet,’” she said. “Or, ‘Thanks for contacting me, I’m not going to come in this semester.’”

In other instances, students want to return, but there’s something in their way such as a hold on their account because of an outstanding bill, or the classes they need to take don’t fit with their schedule.

In those cases, Bischof works with her students on a graduation plan that is specific to their goals.

“Given your life schedule, your family commitments, what’s going to make sense for you?” she asks them.

Sometimes that means getting the student-accounts office or other administrators involved.

Bischof said she thinks the role of the professor needs to change to incorporate more advising in order to help students to successfully progress to graduation. But she acknowledged that it could be hard for some professors.

“It’s very difficult if you’ve been doing something for 30 or 40 years to now see this as part of your role, because it hasn’t been. But it increasingly will be,” she said. “It gets results that will help everyone.”

Susan Campbell, the special assistant for enrollment at USM, agreed.

“We know that faculty have lots of demands,” she said. “We require them to teach, participate in scholarship and service. But the heart of what they’re doing is teaching. I think working with students, doing the kind of connections that Libby is doing, is really part of teaching.”

Bischof said she’s been contacting her non-registered advisees for the past three or four years, but this summer she’s also reaching out to another group: students who have applied for graduation, but never received a diploma.

“One of the things I’ve noticed over time is that a lot of kids apply for graduation and appear in the commencement without actually graduating,” she said.

She’s encountered former students whose graduation applications were rejected because they simply needed to drop a minor that was still listed on their transcript, do a loan exit interview or get credits they’d completed elsewhere transferred to USM.

But with others, she takes the same approach as she does with her advisees.

She explained, “I think it really matters to students that someone cares enough about their progress to actually bring them back into the fold.”

 

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