Shana Kerr must feel like she won the Triple Crown in 2017 – a baby in March and an advising award from Georgia Tech in April. Following soon after was an award from NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising, naming Kerr one of 10 winners of the association’s 2017 Outstanding Advising Award – Faculty Academic Advising.
Kerr is being recognized for her exemplary academic advising, which is based on giving students direction and resources so they can themselves discover the answers to their questions. She believes in being genuine in her interactions with advisees and learning as much from students as they do from her.
“When I joined the Tech community as a member of the teaching faculty, I never imagined that academic advising would become such a fulfilling aspect of my job,” Kerr says. “I am deeply honored to be recognized at the national level for my advising and extremely proud to represent Tech!”
Kerr joined the Georgia Tech faculty in 2012 as an academic professional in the School of Biological Sciences. Her primary role is teaching classes; along the way she got involved in advising students. She realized the importance and joy of student advising, and as her awards attest, she has become a top-notch academic advisor.
“Sometimes students want easy, direct answers,” Kerr says. “But students who are always given direct answers are not getting practice in answering questions for themselves. I might respond with, ‘Have a look at this website for information on this issue. Let me know if you run into trouble.’ Over time, I have found that this approach yields more sophisticated questions from the same student.”
Georgia Tech’s well-deserved reputation for rigor can be shocking to high-achieving new freshmen, some of whom may struggle to pass a class or likely fail. As an adviser, Kerr helps them develop not only study skills, but also the virtues of perseverance in the face of constant challenge and resolution not to give up. She uses her advising meetings to inquire about how students are doing, determine whether serious intervention is needed, and direct them to other resources. “Many students see these resources as a lifeline,” she says.
“Professionalism is important,” Kerr continues. “But we are all human, and humanity involves emotions, mistakes, and ultimately just being yourself.” Being genuine can mean a spontaneous hug when a student has accomplished a big goal, or empathizing with and even being frustrated on a student’s behalf when they have unhelpful encounters elsewhere. Kerr wants students to know that she is affirming their experiences.
“I am constantly humbled and inspired by the amazing students I work with,” Kerr says. “I have learned much about what it really means to be persistent in the face of unrelenting challenges. I am grateful to work with such motivated and hard-working students and so very pleased to have stumbled – accidentally and enthusiastically – into the critical role of academic advisor.”