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In Place with CASPAR

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Helping students where they live. That’s the goal of the College of Arts and Science’s Pre-major Academic Advising Resource Center (CASPAR). The innovative advising program has set up shop in room 225 of The Commons Center, heart of the university’s first-year living and learning center. That makes it easy for first-year students and those who have not yet selected a major to meet with academic (and overall college life) advisers.

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CASPAR Director Patricia Armstrong oversees a staff of six recent or soon-to-be Ph.D.s who work closely with undergraduates to help them thrive at Vanderbilt. A specialist in 17th-century French literature, she took on her CASPAR role in addition to serving as senior lecturer in the Department of French and Italian. Armstrong says one of the joys of her CASPAR work is advising students as they take on intellectual challenges at Vanderbilt.
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In the past, pre-major advising was assigned to faculty members located in separate academic offices all over campus. The CASPAR program was launched in fall 2009 to help students interact with their advisers more organically and to provide a uniform advising experience for new students.
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One of the advantages to offices in The Commons is that students feel free to stop by and talk with their advisers both formally and informally. Doctoral student and adviser Laura Taylor (left) and Josh Epstein, MA’04, PhD’08, (right) chat with student Eric Fram.
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Andrea Hearn, PhD’05, has been a pre-major adviser since 2007. She’s also a senior lecturer in the English department and was honored with the college’s Harriet S. Gilliam Award for Excellence in Teaching by a Lecturer or Senior Lecturer in 2009.
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First-year student Stephen Siao talks to his adviser, Charles Bowie, MTS’00, MA’06, PhD’08. Advisers are available to help students select classes and develop course schedules, but also help with the transition from high school to a major research university.
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Student Michael McGee is one of many who pass by on the way to other activities in The Commons Center. The CASPAR offices are open during the day when students gather to eat, pick up an espresso, work out, hang out, study or play. The center also has evening office hours by appointment.
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CASPAR advisers also help students understand AXLE requirements, the core curriculum that College of Arts and Science students must fulfill. Student Malika Watson credits her CASPAR adviser, Scott Zeman, PhD’09, for helping her select courses and navigate AXLE.
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Located on the second floor of The Commons Center, CASPAR offices are between The Commons’ post office and conference room 205, next to the building’s workout facilities. Meeting in the conference room are first-year student Trevor Anderson (pictured) and just out of view, advisers Christine Valiquette, MA’04, PhD’08, and Scott Zeman.

photo credit: John Russell

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