From undecided to advising professionals: OHIO advisors got their start in University College
OHIO alumni Ashley Beatty-Smith and Stevi Miller share a passion for helping students, and they have something else in common: both got their start at OHIO as undecided students in University College. Both went on to complete undergraduate degrees in the Scripps College of Communication and graduate degrees in the Scripps College and Patton College of Education. Now both have careers helping students explore their passions and find the paths that will best suit their unique skills and interests.
Ohio University was always on Beatty-Smith’s radar. She grew up in Pickerington with an awareness of the OHIO Lancaster campus and the Pickerington center. That familiarity and her interest in journalism drew the first-generation student to OHIO.
“I decided Ohio University was the best fit,” Beatty-Smith said. “I did a campus tour and fell in love with OHIO and all the experiential learning opportunities.”
Though Beatty-Smith came to OHIO with an interest in journalism, she was also interested in the arts and political science, so she decided to enter undecided to give herself time and space to explore her options. During her first year, she took courses in communications, journalism, and interdisciplinary arts in addition to her Learning Community seminar.
Like Beatty-Smith, Miller entered OHIO as an undecided student in University College. She knew she wanted a college in a small town, not unlike her hometown of Chillicothe, but she also wanted a college where she would have access to abundant resources and numerous majors to choose from. After visiting OHIO, she could picture herself in Athens, studying on the College Green. Miller planned to enter undecided and explore her academic options once she got to college.
“I knew that I did not have it figured out in high school,” Miller said. “And I knew that when I got to college, I'd have the ability to explore.”
Miller said she did not have a career path or goal in mind as a student, but knew she wanted to help people. After exploring majors through her Learning Community, coursework, advising, and the annual Majors Fair, Miller decided on a communication studies major with a minor in sociology.
Miller and Beatty-Smith both said they benefited from having helpful professional advisors during their time as undecided students. Not only did their interactions and relationships with those advisors help them find their academic paths at OHIO, they started both students on a path to their future careers.
“I had an advisor in University College who really helped me strategically choose classes to explore my interests while also fulfilling general education requirements,” Beatty-Smith said. “I always felt that I had somebody that cared about me at the University and that made a difference. I had an advisor who was patient, kind, and caring and took the time to provide that support to me.”
Beatty-Smith said she was grateful to have an advisor who listened to her, asked thoughtful questions, and provided helpful guidance. Her experience as an undecided student has informed her work in many ways.
“Had it not been for the guidance and insights that she shared with me, I'm not sure I would have had the ability to find various opportunities and to know how to bring all of my passions and my interests together,” Beatty-Smith said. “Having an advisor who took the time to learn my story and my interests really made an impact on the trajectory of my time at Ohio University and on my career.”
In addition to exploring academic options early on in her career as a student, Beatty-Smith also took time for some global exploration, participating in two fine arts study abroad programs in her first two years at OHIO. She also got involved with the Scripps Survey Research Center and WOUB.
“I found this program (communication studies) that allowed me to bring together all three of the interests that I had been exploring through my University College experience,” Beatty-Smith said.
Miller said her University College advisor, Dr. Char Rae, helped support her in her major exploration and helped her track her progress toward her degree.
“She was very good about making recommendations based on the things that I said that I wanted, courses I could try, or programs I could look into further,” Miller said.
From advisees to advisors
Beatty-Smith took inspiration from her study abroad experience and became a peer advisor helping connect other students to global opportunities. It was that experience that exposed her to career opportunities in advising and student affairs and led her to pursue a master’s degree in college student personnel.
As a graduate student in the Patton College of Education, Beatty-Smith gained hands-on advising experience as a graduate assistant in the Allen Student Advising Center (now Allen Advising) and supported Bobcat Student Orientation.
After completing her master’s degree, Beatty-Smith spent several years coordinating study abroad programs in the Office of Global Opportunities before becoming an academic advisor for the Scripps College of Communication. She now serves as the associate director for academic advising in the Center for Advising, Career and Experiential Learning.
“I love what I do,” she said. “Every student brings so many different identities to the conversation and different interests. Every student has a unique story and it's important to learn their whole story.”
Both Miller and Beatty-Smith said their experiences as undecided students and their interactions with caring and supportive advisors have informed and shaped the work they now do in advising students at OHIO.
“I know what I needed as a student,” Beatty-Smith said.
Miller said she always enjoyed meeting with her advisor and planning the courses that she would take each semester. She explained that as her advisor, Rae had a lasting impact on her that she carries into the work she does today supporting current OHIO students.
“My first advisor at OHIO, Dr. Char Rae, was the person who helped me realize I wanted to be an academic advisor myself,” Miller said.
After Miller graduated, she continued to work for Parking Services before beginning a temporary position supporting the departments of African American Studies and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She soon moved into a permanent role advising students in the College of Arts and Sciences and now serves as the director of student services for the college.
“I have always been a people person,” Miller said. “I've always enjoyed communicating with people. It was just a matter of figuring out how to use my degree. I feel like I'm using it every day.”
Miller and Beatty-Smith both tell students not to put too much pressure on themselves to find the right major quickly. Undecided students have the time and flexibility to explore with the support of advisors and career professionals, while still progressing toward an on-time graduation, according to these advisors.
“As I'm advising undecided students in Arts and Sciences, I will tell them 70 percent of students change their major,” Miller said. “There's always this perception that everybody else has it figured out you don't. Take that pressure off yourself.”
As an advisor, Beatty-Smith works to help students discover and explore their academic options and encourages students to keep their options open, try new things, and get involved on campus.
“I always tell students it's OK to not know what you want to do yet,” she said. “It's OK to not have a major. There may be doors open to you that you would not have expected coming in.”