Academic Experience: Connecting the Dots

Students in class

Randolph Plan helps students reach their goals

It was a simple question asked at a recent conference for graduate students in Williamsburg, Virginia. “How many of you had academic advisors who changed your lives?”

Zara Sibtain ’13 didn’t even have to think about it. But when she glanced around the room to see who else had raised a hand, she realized she was the only one.

“Without missing a beat, the presenters told me my experience was an anomaly,” said Sibtain, a psychology major from

Randolph who recently earned her master’s degree in higher education administration at The College of William & Mary.
Her advisors at Randolph were more than professors who signed off on her class selections. “I saw them as mentors inside and outside of classrooms,” she said. “Our meetings were never solely focused on the academic classes I was going to take the following semester. They were genuinely interested in what I was involved in outside of my academics.

“They asked me what I wanted to do after college and how my experiences could help shape my future,” she added.
At Randolph, faculty members take their role in the advising process seriously. “We don’t just rubber stamp course choices,” said Beth Schwartz, the Catherine E. and William E. Thoresen Chair in Social Sciences and assistant dean of the College. “We talk about those choices, make connections between those choices, discuss what internships to consider, how study abroad could fit, and what type of co-curricular choices would create an even more transformative education.”

Though the name has changed over the years, the process by which Randolph faculty members help students create a roadmap for their college career has long been a hallmark of a Randolph education. Whether or not students arrive at Randolph knowing what major or career they want, the Randolph Plan provides a framework within which faculty advisors guide students to explore their interests, discover service opportunities, refine their goals, and connect real-world experiences with academics.

When Randolph President Bradley W. Bateman first visited the College more than a decade ago—as an outside consultant who was invited to review the economics department—the advising program caught his attention. When he returned in 2014 to assume his position as president, he was determined to highlight and enhance the program. “The Randolph Plan helps students make sense of their education from the very beginning,” Bateman said. “It asks students to make their choices about classes guided not only by a list of graduation requirements, but also by their long-term goals.

“By making those choices, and then reviewing them, with the help of a caring advisor, students learn much about themselves and about the world,” Bateman added. “It allows them to define their destination and then reach it.”

Sibtain considers herself a Randolph success story and gives credit to her professors for getting her where she is today. “They didn’t just help me pick classes. They encouraged me to think how I could relate my co-curricular activities to my academics,” she said. “They helped connect the dots for me. It really didn’t hit me until after I left, the impact this small school and community had on my experiences. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”