Bumpers College Moves to Professional Advising Model, Welcomes Two New Advisers

Front, from left: Abbie Tanner, Cathy Hamilton, Melinda Dunlap; back: Lucas Simmons, Jody Davis.
Robby Edwards

Front, from left: Abbie Tanner, Cathy Hamilton, Melinda Dunlap; back: Lucas Simmons, Jody Davis.

To better connect students to on-campus resources and strengthen an already strong graduation rate, U of A's Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences has added an academic adviser to its Student Services team and changed its advising model.

Regular interaction with advisers is crucial in keeping students on track toward graduation and, sometimes, enrolled at all. Bumpers College's Student Services Office in the Waldrip Student Center offers a waiting area for students to study or relax and the opportunity to visit with staff members regarding changing majors or minors, graduation, career services, scholarships, personal concerns and more.

In addition, the college's advising team works out of the Waldrip Student Center, headed by Lucas Simmons, senior academic adviser and student experience coordinator, and Jody Davis, director of student records.

Simmons has helped coordinate the move to a professional academic advising model, which means his group initially advises all transfer students, students who changed their majors to Bumpers College, freshmen and sophomores. Once a student has been advised into their first semester of junior year, students are assigned to faculty members in their major's department for advising until completion of the degree.

"This process will streamline a more comprehensive student experience for students and further connect our retention and graduation initiatives within the college," Simmons says. "It's joint ownership with the student, and the adviser has to ask questions at appropriate times. We want students to visualize themselves as graduates from day one."

Working with Simmons on the college's advising team are Davis and professional advisers Melinda Dunlap, Cathy Hamilton and Abbie Tanner.

Dunlap was recognized this spring by U of A's Academic Advising Council with the New Academic Advisor of the Year award. Simmons received the AAC's Silo-Busting Award for encouraging coordination and collaboration across campus. Both received Outstanding Mentor awards in 2021 from U of A's Office of Nationally Competitive Awards.

Simmons also received U of A's Outstanding Primary Role Academic Advisor award and a Certificate of Merit for Outstanding Academic Advising from the National Academic Advising Association, both in 2019. Davis has received multiple awards, but was recently recognized as the recipient of the 2019 Graduate of Distinction Award from the U of A Animal Science Department and in 2020 received the Bumpers College Excellence in Service Award. Additionally, she was recognized this spring by the Honors College as recipient of the 2022 U of A Staff Award for her effort in going the extra mile for students in helping them succeed on campus and beyond.

"We really focus on what's called appreciative advising," Simmons says. "We break down barriers with students. We talk to them about more than classes. We talk to them about their long-term goals, their interests. We ask them, 'Why do you think you want to do this?' They need a support network."

This network assists students in taking advantage of resources on campus, such as drop-in visits with staff or simply down time in the Waldrip Student Center. The group also assists students in connecting with the Career Development Center, financial aid, personal wellness, tutoring, counseling and more, and is also available by appointment.

"I care about their success," Dunlap says. "I want them to graduate. I try to be as thorough as possible. I love interacting with students. I feel I've done a good job when they leave and feel ready for the next semester and know what they're going to do. That's very rewarding for me."

The college has recorded the top graduation rate on campus in four of the last five years (data based on six-year rates). The college's graduation rate has also been higher than the university average in 14 of the 17 years data is available.

"Bumpers College advising efforts are the critical factor in keeping both our retention and graduation rates consistently high," Davis says. "We strive to have students connect with faculty and staff, and our team approach ensures students should always know who to contact regarding any issue they may be facing."

"I feel our students have a grit and persistence that cannot be learned in the classroom alone, but facilitated through personal and real-world experiences," Simmons says. "Our hope is to help each student find their passion and let that passion become their purpose. The more interaction we can help facilitate through organizational involvement, connections to careers and discussions with faculty and staff, the more prepared our students will be to meet the demand for workers in the largest industry in the world - agriculture, which includes surrounding industries related to health and nutrition, food, fiber and more."

Davis has been on campus more than 35 years and worked in Bumpers College in various roles the entire time. Some of her roles have been as a research and professional assistant, adviser, enrollment and curriculum specialist, and student confidant, as well as serving as in college administration.

Simmons has more than 15 years of experience working with students and has been on campus since 2012. He began with the college in 2014 after teaching high school and working in the Vice Provosts/Dean of Student Affairs Office. He has served as adviser, helped develop retention initiatives, recruited perspective students and worked toward creating a comprehensive student onboarding experience.

Dunlap has been on campus 27 years and became an adviser in 2019 after previously working in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness and the U of A Admissions Office.

Hamilton worked in the Department of Food Science for 38 years and has been advising for the past 19. She recently joined the advising team after working in her split roles between student relations, retention and enrollment support, to name a few.

Tanner joined the group this spring after spending two years on campus as a financial aid analyst and higher education institute program coordinator in the U of A Scholarships Office.

Simmons advises and mentors all students declared as AFLS Exploring, AFLS Transitions Academic Program (TAP) and students within the AFLS SSS/TRIO program. He also coordinates college-wide retention initiatives, New Student Orientation, AFLS Early Alert and the Ag Living Learning Community, while also sitting on the AFLS DEI and Curriculum committees.

Davis provides support to all Bumpers College students, specifically monitoring their progress toward graduation. Her focus is on helping students understand the graduation requirements and policies. She oversees all student records, tracks and coordinates honors requirements, completes all graduation clearances and helps monitor student academic progress.

Tanner advises for animal science; crop science; environmental, soil and water science; poultry science; horticulture, turf and landscape science; and agricultural education, communications and technology.

Hamilton advises for apparel merchandising and product development; human nutrition and dietetics; food, nutrition and health; and food science.

Dunlap advises for agricultural business, birth through kindergarten, hospitality management, and human development and family sciences.

Students are encouraged to visit the Waldrip Student Center (Agriculture Building room 205) anytime, Monday-Friday 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. year around.

About the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences: Bumpers College provides life-changing opportunities to position and prepare graduates who will be leaders in the businesses associated with foods, family, the environment, agriculture, sustainability and human quality of life; and who will be first-choice candidates of employers looking for leaders, innovators, policy makers and entrepreneurs. The college is named for Dale Bumpers, former Arkansas governor and longtime U.S. senator who made the state prominent in national and international agriculture. For more information about Bumpers College, visit our website, and follow us on Twitter at @BumpersCollege and Instagram at BumpersCollege.

About the University of Arkansas: As Arkansas' flagship institution, the U of A provides an internationally competitive education in more than 200 academic programs. Founded in 1871, the U of A contributes more than $2.2 billion to Arkansas' economy through the teaching of new knowledge and skills, entrepreneurship and job development, discovery through research and creative activity while also providing training for professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the U of A among the top 3% of U.S. colleges and universities with the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the U of A among the top public universities in the nation. See how the U of A works to build a better world at Arkansas Research News.

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