Kate Kok Southwick
Year of Graduation: 1987
Graduate Degree: Master's in Counseling
Job Title: Academic Advisor
Please give a brief description of your current position and where you're working.
I work as an academic advisor at Inver Hills Community College in Inver Grove Heights. I help students understand college requirements, register & choose the correct courses, make long term academic plans to graduate or transfer. I also counsel students on probation and at-risk to help them improve their grades and make better academic choices.
What path did you follow to arrive at your current job?
My first job after graduating from St. Benedict's was working as an administrative assistant in an advertising office. I then taught English in Japan for two years. When I came back to the US, I did some temp work and also worked as administrative assistant for the academic advising department at a for-profit, distance learning university - Walden University. After two years, I was promoted into an advising position at Walden on the condition that I complete a Master's degree. After a few years, I was promoted to Assoc. Director of Enrollment for Walden University.
I then applied for a temporary academic advising position at Metropolitan State University. This is a state university that is part of the MN State Colleges and University (MNSCU) system. I wanted to work with a more "traditional" student population. Metropolitan State was a good option with lots of non-traditional adult students and online programs, but it was a traditional university in the sense that it had actual courses to register for and a campus, unlike Walden. After a year, I was hired permanently and worked there for four more years at the College of Management. During that time I was asked to be the interim director of advising while my boss was on leave. This gave me the courage to apply for my next position as Director of IT Career Development for a center of excellence in the MNSCU system. After eight years, I wanted to go back to having more contact with students and so applied and was selected for an academic advising position at Inver Hills Community College.
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
Working with students and helping them succeed can be very rewarding. I feel like I am making a difference in their lives. However, don't expect to ever be making six figures in this type of position! . Academic Advising can have different titles, different responsibilities and different pay scales depending on where you work, so it is important to check into the organizations. Some places have full time professional academic advisors, other places use teaching faculty to offer some advising on the side. At some places a full- time academic advisor is considered faculty, and other places they are not. Community colleges may have different expectations and pay scales than universities for advisors. Most likely, you will need a master's degree in counseling or student affairs/student services. No matter what job you want, it is a good idea to conduct informational interviews with a variety of people in advising positions at different types of schools.
What skills are important in your field?
- Counseling skills, good listening, working with people
- Being detail oriented - giving accurate information, follow through
- Problem solving, good at "detective" work - looking up information, data analysis,
- Time management
- Being a team player
- Resilience and learning balance in my life
- Presentation skills - you may be required to give presentations to small or large groups of students.
- Excellent written and verbal (and non-verbal) communication skills. Good writing is important. Advisors have a lot of correspondence with students, so you need to be clear and easily understood. Additionally, you may need to create documents, forms, and possibly handbooks for use in your job.
- For most of these types of positions, a master's degree is required.
What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?
Theater classes and being in productions helped me be comfortable in front of groups, and be a more dynamic presenter. Study abroad programs were important to learn what it feels like to be part of another culture. Student employment as a writing tutor and teacher's assistant helped me learn how to teach and work with students. Generally, attending college gave me important experiences that help me relate to other college students and I use examples from my college experiences when I work with students on probation or at-risk.
What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your job?
- Meeting many different types of people and learning about their career and life goals.
- Helping to make sense of curriculum requirements and solve problems so that students feel more comfortable and able to succeed.
- Working with other faculty and staff to come up with better ways to assist students and identify how to make them more successful.
- Creating new programs and processes that make systems more efficient and effective.
- Seeing a student who is struggling learn to be more successful and then graduate.
- Helping students overcome their fears about education.