Charting a Path

Paula Wallace, associate dean of the College, helps guide a student during an advising session.

Paula Wallace, associate dean of the College, helps guide a student during an advising session.

The road to college was a long one—literally—for Sara A. Reed ’15. After making a last-minute decision to attend Randolph, she packed up her car and made the journey to Lynchburg from California, arriving at 5:30 a.m. the morning of orientation.

Her trip was over, but as she quickly found out, the adventure was just beginning.

Like most first-years, Reed had her first meeting with her academic advisor that very day. She had definite goals for her college experience: major in biology and dance, prepare for medical school, and study abroad for a full year.

Paula Wallace, Reed’s first-year advisor and the associate dean of the College, uses a tried-and-true method for helping students set a four-year plan in motion. On a piece of paper, she and Reed used a table with four rows—each representing a year—and two columns—representing each semester. Wallace then explained what those goals would require at each stage of Reed’s college experience.

“I came in knowing what I wanted to accomplish,” Reed said. “But she really set me up for success that first semester.”
Even with her lofty ambitions, Reed’s four-year plan worked. Thanks to coordination between Reed and three faculty members who advised her throughout college, she met all of her goals. Now she works in Lynchburg General Hospital’s emergency room and is looking at medical school options.

The grid on which Wallace and Reed mapped out her college journey is familiar to most Randolph students. Over the past 40 years, Wallace has made it a central part of the Randolph Plan. So much so that when she pulls out a blank copy, she often jokes, “This is going to be on my tombstone.”

“We don’t advise semester by semester,” Wallace explained. “We try to get the student to see the whole picture.”

The concept for the Randolph Plan emerged 42 years ago, when Wallace was in the early years of her career. She wanted to create a model for advising and help students graduate on time. The hard work of the faculty advisors has paid off. During the last 10 years, 97 percent of Randolph graduates earned their degrees in four years or less.

The Randolph Plan has evolved over the years, becoming a hallmark of a Randolph education. For Wallace, who has developed a passion for helping students realize their potential and meet their goals, the program goes far beyond advising. It has become a method for helping students connect their experiences and use them to make sound decisions about the future.

Ann Fabirkiewicz, a chemistry professor, meets with a student in a lab classroom.

Ann Fabirkiewicz, a chemistry professor, meets with a student in a lab classroom.

Ann Fabirkiewicz, a chemistry professor and Reed’s pre-med advisor, uses the Randolph Plan to demonstrate to students how courses that seem completely unrelated to their goals are important to their liberal arts foundation. “They see that it does all fit together, and there’s still room for fun, and for classes that you take just because you want to learn about them,” she said.

The plan encompasses four years of planning at a time, but advisors like Wallace and Fabirkiewicz make sure students know they provide a moving target.

“I only write them in in pencil,” Fabirkiewicz said.

The beauty behind the program, said Wallace, is that it helps those students who have definite long-term goals in mind as well as those who have not yet decided their future plans. For some, it even leads to new interests.

Randolph students, she added, are able to chart their own course. “We’re well poised to help students make maps instead of just read them.”