University of South Carolina

A champion for appreciative advising

By Megan Sexton,, 803-777-1421

Each year, thinkers and doers from all over the world come together for the TED conferences, dynamic events featuring lectures in Technology, Entertainment and Design. Attendees have called it "the ultimate brain spa," and TED is known for sending people home energized about the possibilities for the future.

It’s a gathering that’s made for people like USC education professor Jenny Bloom.

At the TED Global 2012 gathering in Edinburgh, Scotland, this summer, Bloom was invited to give a short presentation about how a positive approach can be used to create sustainable behavior change. In three minutes, she made her case for how people in countries with poor sanitary conditions can be taught to change the way they wash their hands, a simple change that can truly save lives.

Bloom, a clinical professor in the College of Education’s department of educational leadership, is a true believer in the power of a positive approach. It’s a belief that guides her role in what’s called appreciative advising -- a way of working with students by asking open-ended questions and then carefully listening to the students’ responses.

 “It’s advising that moves beyond asking, ‘What classes are you going to take?’ It’s about getting to know students, their life goals, their career goals – and helping them make a plan for accomplishing the goals through inside and outside the classroom actions,” Bloom said. “And it’s about reminding advisors how important it is to believe in their students and how important it is to open doors of opportunity for them.”

Bloom knows first-hand the difference individual attention can make in a student’s life. After finishing her undergraduate degree at Illinois State, she wasn’t sure of her career path. People stepped up and helped her along the way, leading her toward jobs where she advised students.

“I’ve had a whole series of people who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. They opened doors for me,” she said. “I can’t pay those people back, but I can pay it forward every day.”

Bloom spreads that message to students, as director of USC’s master’s program in higher education and student affairs, and in appreciative advising workshops around the country. Her journey to TED is just one of her trips this summer; she’s presenting at conferences around the country about appreciative advising, and in the past few months she’s presented at universities from Johns Hopkins to the University of Minnesota. An appreciative advising institute is scheduled in Charleston at the end of July, with participants coming from around the country.

Bloom cites data collected from a number of institutions to back up her beliefs. The preliminary numbers indicate that students who have been appreciatively advised are retained at a higher rate.

 “It’s very, very hot right now. The power of it is that I’m able to take research-based as well as common sense strategies and put them into a framework that gives people what they need to help students,” she said. “I think we’re at the tipping point where people are realizing appreciative advising is the way advising should be done.”

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Posted: 08/16/12 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 08/16/12 @ 3:06 PM | Permalink