Training program hopes to give advisors equal access to information


A new certification program from the provost’s office hopes to give anyone newly hired into an advising role standard information around University policies, practices and resources — and current advisors are welcome to take the training, too.

The Advising Certification and Training Program was developed as part of the provost’s personalized education initiative. April Belback, director for undergraduate advising and mentoring, started working on the program shortly after she was hired in 2019. But she’s adamant that this final product is the result of a University-wide effort, including a working group and input from people at workshops and the Mentoring and Advising Summit.

“The first summer I was here, we conducted something that is called the academic advising landscape analysis that went around and talked to folks and asked them if you could just describe what’s happening and I just listened,” Belback said. “Out of that analysis, we really learned … that there wasn’t a clear onboarding and training … and also, a place where everybody could go to that provided a toolbox of resources.”

Julia Spears, associate vice provost for academic innovation, said the goal is to “help ensure that there’s a centralized place to collect information … and making sure that it was accessible, easy to find, current, relevant to the challenges that we’re hearing from directors of advising and their academic advisors.”

The new training doesn’t replace the unit-specific nuances that new hires need to learn, but gives an overview of what advising means at Pitt.

“For us it’s really an equity issue that has a lot to do with with equity and access to information,” Belback said. “There’s advising and mentoring happening everywhere across the University, but not everybody gets the same training when they’re onboarded in these roles. We just want to make sure that everybody has access to equitable information and resources.”

While the training isn’t required by the University, supervisors can make it part of the onboarding process. One of the key aspects of the training is learning about and getting access to three technologies important to advising at Pitt: PeopleSoft and HighPoint Campus Experience, the student information system; Pathways to Student Success, which provides advising notes, referrals and appointment scheduling; and the new Catalog of Opportunities, which lists Outside the Classroom Curriculum and other nonstandard learning activities.

The announcement about the new training program went out in late August to everyone on campus who is in a mentoring or advising role, who are all encouraged to take the training. People who might be thinking of moving into advising also are welcome to participate.

A 2020 Pitt Seed Grant funded the project and the University Center for Teaching and Learning helped develop the infrastructure for the program. The curriculum was developed by advisors who are doing the day to day work of advising and mentoring.

The actual course is presented through Canvas. Each of the six modules includes a list of learning objectives, some also have videos to watch or activities to complete. A resource page at the end of each module can be downloaded as a PDF. The training can be done at your own pace and overall will take about 4.5 hours, Belback said.

As of early September, 38 people had signed up for the training — some new hires and others Pitt veterans.

“Some folks are sharing as they’re completing the modules that their role as an advisor began somewhat abruptly. They decided to take on this role and had never advised before,” Belback said. “And what they’re finding is a lot of basic tools they didn’t know about, didn’t know where to find, and there was no real formal onboarding process.”

They plan to add more modules for advisors at different stages of their career. There also are a variety of other professional development opportunities for advisors at Pitt. The next advising and mentoring workshop is an introduction to the Catalog of Opportunities, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Oct. 19. Register online.

“We’re very committed to helping advisors build their professional development right here at Pitt,” Belback said. “Everything we offer is a part of wanting them to better understand their work.”

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 724-244-4042.


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