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Academic Advising

Q&A with the 2024 Ada B. Thomas Outstanding Advisor Award Winners

Established in 1990, the Ada B. Thomas Outstanding Advisor Award recognizes one faculty and one staff advisor who offer quality advising to undergraduate students. The UAC sat down with 2024 award winners, Dr. Jeff Turner and Katherine Blanton, to learn more about their committment to excellent advising practices. 

Meet the 2024 Ada B. Thomas Outstanding Advisor Award Winners

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Katherine Blanton, College of Hospitality, Retail, and Sport Management

Katherine Blanton joined the academic advising staff in the College of Hospitality, Retail, and Sport Management in 2017. In addition to her academic advisor duties, she also teaches University 101, EDFI 300, and most recently "Life as a Classroom (Taylor's version)" offered through Continuing Education and Conferences. 

Dr. Turner is picuted from the shuoulders up. He is wearing eye glasses and is smiling.

Dr. Jeff Turner, Philosophy

Dr. Jeff Turner has been with USC for 17 years where he has served as an instructor for the Philosophy Department and as a departmental  Academic Advisor. 


Q&A with the Award Winners


Tell us about your path to becoming an academic advisor. 

Katherine Blanton: It goes goes back to my undergrad experience, because we did not have required advising at the university I attended. I thought I could advise myself through my program, and then when I reported to the office that I was ready to do student teaching next spring, I realized I was off track. I ended up having to stay in school for an extra semester. I was not seeking the assistance or support of an advisor, so I kind of carried that with me into my journey. I taught high school for a number of years and then started working at a community college as an instructor, and there was a semester where they had an overload of students and needed some assistance with advising. I realized I liked advising way more than teaching full time, so to be able to balance advising and teaching has been really the crux of my career.

Jeff Turner: Our Director of Undergraduate Studies was doing advising and was looking to retire. He brought me and another colleague on to help with advising . Over the course of a few years, it was decided that I would take over the advisor role. I became the principal advisor [for the Philosophy Dept] in Fall 2014. 

Early on I ask my students 'What are you passionate about? What lights your soul on fire?' Let's do that. 

- Dr. Jeff Turner, Senior Instructor and Academic Advisor, Philosophy

How would you describe your advising style? 

KB:  I keep a lot of lists and spreadsheets, so I know what my students should be doing in any given semester. I check and if they're not [I follow up with them]. As advisors the further we are removed from our own undergraduate experience, we forget what the day to day looks like for our students. We assume something like registering for classes or  remembering where things are is the only thing that [students] are doing and it's not. I think we have to remember our students lead very full lives. it's important to remember we're supporting them as advisors, but we also we need to empower them to do things on their own. It's a very delicate balance between doing things for them and encouraging them to do things for themselves and advocate for themselves while also teaching them to be more responsible.

JT: I like to make sure I'm available to the students as often as they need me. I've tried to create a kind of trust with the students early on. I tell them to email me, update me, and communicate with me, because it's better for both of us that we're aware of everything going on [in the student's academic journey.] I establish a relationship early on, and then ask students to let me know if they have problems of any kind, even if it doesn't seem like "an advisor problem." I also try to demystify academic requirements. 

Being a quality advisor is not just telling students what classes to take, but establishing lasting relationships with students, their families and with other colleagues and people in the community.

- Katherine Blanton, Undergraduate Academic Advisor, College of HRSM

The Ada B. Thomas award recognizes academic advisors who offer quality advising to undergraduate students. What is your definition of quality advising? 

KB: It goes back to providing students with not only academic advising, but also life "advising", university "advising" and resource and professional advising. It's going beyond just telling them what classes to take every semester, but also building a relationship with them. Even after graduation when they're considering a graduate program and realize they need letters of recommendation, they think of Miss Blanton and feel comfortable asking me for a recommendation. Quality advising for me is also being a valued member of the Gamecock community, so serving on committees, volunteering at events, attending events so that people in the in the Community know who I am, know my name, and so they can use me as a resource as well. Being a quality advisor is not just telling students what classes to take, but establishing lasting relationships with students, their families and with other colleagues and people in the community.

JT: I want to make sure I can answer student questions to keep them on the path they want to be on. I don't want to push them in the direction of doing things they're not comfortable doing. I spend a lot of time in their early semesters asking them questions about what they're enjoying and what they think they might like to do next, so I can eventually get to the question of what's beyond [their time at] the University. I often have students who come to me and say "my parents are putting a lot of pressure on me to add a "practical" minor." I tell them we can do that but let's try to find something that works for you and your interests. Early on I ask my students 'What are you passionate about? What lights your soul on fire?'. Let's do that.

Ada B. Thomas was known for being direct with her students, while also advocating for them. What is one thing you hope your students remember about you? 

KB: I always had time for them. I think it's important  we set boundaries with expectations for response time or accessibility, but at the same time, meet the students where they are. Our students are so used to having constant communication and constant connection with people that I think students will always say that I responded quickly. My students always know they can always find me and if my door is open and you don't see a student in my office, you can come in.

JT: I hope they think I was helpful. Sometimes I have to re-route students who are overly ambitious and want to pursue double majors, dual degrees, and a minor on each. I have to address that gently and nudge students to reduce it down to what they really want to do. I hope they remember [after graduation] it was helpful to be nudged in that direction. 

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