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Eye on Psi Chi: Winter 2001
The Advisor-Student Relationship: The Cornerstone
of a Successful Psi Chi Chapter

Jennifer McElroy and Jeanette Altarriba
University at Albany, State University of New York

The basis of a successful Psi Chi chapter rests primarily with the advisor-student relationship. What kinds of attributes should an advisor or mentor possess? What kinds of responsibilities and roles should students fulfill? The aim of this article is to discuss student perceptions of the mentorship and leadership by faculty advisors, and to discuss the ways in which students can contribute to the success of their chapter and their relationship with their advisor. "The Student Perspective" was written by the current, incoming copresident of the University at Albany, State University of New York Psi Chi Chapter. "The Advisor Perspective" was written by the longtime faculty advisor of this same chapter.

The Student Perspective
Personal experiences at the SUNY Albany Chapter.
In the overwhelming world of college, having an individual who can help and guide you can be beneficial to academic success. For many students, the concept of a mentor is not one they are familiar with, especially for those, like myself, who are undergraduates at a large university. Deciding to attend a large university such as SUNY Albany was a difficult choice for me. I knew that it would be a challenge to maintain my individuality in a lecture center of 300 students where I was only considered a number. Like many of my peers, I began looking for activities that would add to my experiences at college. When I first learned about Psi Chi, I felt it would be like many of the other honor organizations I had already joined. I would receive my certificate, pay my dues, and never do anything more with my membership than write the organization's name on my resume, but fortunately Psi Chi was different. My faculty advisor encouraged me to be an active member. She not only was one of my most dedicated professors in the classroom, but also offered me a position in her laboratory. I began working with her and her graduate students at a level I never thought possible. She encouraged me to contact her and meet with her frequently, always with the same amount of strong support and helpful advice. The relationship we developed is a prime example of a mentoring relationship (Lasley, 1996). She stands behind me in my ideas and goals and pushes me along in my progress academically. She provides me with a positive outlook and a vision for future options in my professional developmenthallmarks of a successful mentor (Lasley, 1996). Recently our advisor-student relationship has grown with my election into the position of copresident of my chapter. Being an officer in an organization can be a difficult responsibility. There are many tasks that need to be accomplished in order for the group to maintain a good standing. Having a dedicated and helpful advisor is a key component to the success of any Psi Chi chapter. My advisor has always put in tremendous amounts of time and energy to uphold the high standards of our organization. I am comfortable to stop in her office at any time and discuss any issue that may be on my mind. She always has her door open to welcome anyone that may happen to be walking by. She has encouraged many students to be involved with Psi Chi and has successfully led our chapter to be one of the largest and most prestigious groups on the SUNY Albany campus.

Tips on advisor selection. For any student choosing a mentor or advisor, there are many things to consider. One of the most important concerns is that the faculty chosen shares a common interest with the student. This person should be involved in the field of study the student is interested in and be knowledgeable about the opportunities within it. Their knowledge will provide exposure to many different areas within the field and broaden the scope of the student's understanding. Also, a mentor should be willing to work with the student, to provide challenges as well as pushing the student to achieve more than the student thought possible. They should be available to give advice and support, to guide the student." Ideally, a professor takes an undergraduate under his/her wing, helps the student set goals and develop skills, and facilitates the student's successful entry into academic and professional circles" (Jacobi, 1991, p. 507). The advisor/mentor should be willing to discuss career options and also the opportunities for further schooling, such as graduate schools. Also, they should be a person who is willing to talk about various student issues inside and outside of classroom objectives. Overall, an effective mentor or advisor will provide a model for the student. Remember, it is essential to be selective when choosing your mentor. It can be a difficult process, but a successful mentoring relationship can have many positive influences in an advisee's academic and personal growth.

The Advisor Perspective
Personal experiences at the SUNY Albany Chapter.
For the past several years, I have served as faculty advisor and mentor to the SUNY Albany Psi Chi Chapter. Throughout these years, the membership has greatly advanced, new programs have emerged, and the organization has been recognized by the university and the community at large. Without the dedication and leadership of student members and volunteers, the organization would not have flourished to the degree that is evident in the current year. Students are seeking more than just advisement with an organization such as this one. They are seeking a mentor-mentee relationship that will allow for professional and personal development throughout their undergraduate years and beyond. What has made this chapter successful and vibrant has been the leadership and unselfish service of its members. Specifically, encouraging students to work within the community, seeking locations to donate their time and efforts and other resources has created a cooperative and highly spirited environment within our chapter.

The single most important question to ask students in the capacity of a faculty advisor is, "Where do you see yourself, five to ten years from now?" Interestingly, students who are asked to consider the answer to this question, often begin by stating how they had never heard it before. Taking the time to listen and interact with students is a key to engaging them in the field and in the profession. There are a few questions I have developed over the years to begin conversations on career opportunities and advancement. They include the usual queries regarding grade point average, courses taken in the major and in the minor, activities and organizations that students belong to, and what their interests are. Finding out what each student thinks would make them happy in the long run, is a good starting point in the mentoring and guidance of students. At SUNY Albany, this has been a successful way of getting students to think about where their careers are headed. Encouraging them to interact with each other in peer advisement sessions, sharing knowledge of course selection and outside opportunities is also an important component of the SUNY Albany Psi Chi experience.

Motivating students to succeed. Students value both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Some of the motivation for students to work effectively within our organization has stemmed from the point system that was placed into action a number of years ago. Students accumulate points for attending meetings and events, and taking on the roles that help the organization function efficiently. By chairing or otherwise participating in one of our various committees, students learn the value of leadership and cooperation and learn to interact with others in a variety of situations. Our committees include Posting, Fundraising, Speakers, Induction, Peer Advisement, Volunteer, Membership, and Awards. Students who are most active are recognized as Outstanding Members at our yearly induction ceremony. Those who have provided extraordinary service are likewise rewarded with a certificate of achievement. Incentive programs such as this work to motivate students to contribute and learn the workings of an organization firsthand.

A key to stimulate active involvement in Psi Chi chapters and to motivate students to remain a vital part of their Chapters throughout their college years is the cultivation of the student-advisor relationship. "The mutual relationship is built on trust and respect. . . . The gift of mentoring is returned as students go beyond the memory and give similar encouragement and respect in turn to their own student" (Morgenthaler, 1996, p. 76). A mentor-mentee relationship is ongoing, providing a consistent source of guidance for the student and an opportunity for the mentor to share a wealth of knowledge over a significant length of time. In summary, students and Psi Chi members benefit greatly from the careful guidance of a mentor who is caring, consistent, involved, and knowledgeable. In turn, Psi Chi advisors and mentors appreciate students who are motivated, enthusiastic, organized, and committed to their goals. Psi Chi chapters offer an exciting venue to promote student-faculty relationships that are productive and mutually beneficial.

Jacobi, M. (1991). Mentoring and undergraduate academic success: A literature review. Review of Educational Research, 61, 505-532.

Lasley, T. J. (1996). Mentors: They simply believe. Peabody Journal of Education, 71, 64-70.

Morgenthaler, S. K. (1996). My mentor: Motivation towards excellence. Peabody Journal of Education, 71, 71-76.

Jennifer McElroy was inducted into Psi Chi in 1998 and is currently serving as copresident of the SUNY Albany Chapter. She received her BA in psychology in December 2000 and intends to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology. She is also a member of the Golden Key National Honor Society and the Presidential Honor Society, and is a student affiliate of the American Psychological Association.

As an undergraduate, Jennifer conducted research on memory for different word types as measured by free recall. She also served as a research assistant in a clinical laboratory working with children classified as autistic. She plans to pursue a career working with children who have special needs and is particularly interested in research on early prevention methods.

Jeanette Altarriba, PhD, is an associate professor of psychology at the University at Albany, State University of New York. As an undergraduate student, she was president of the Psi Chi Chapter at Florida International University. She has been a Psi Chi faculty advisor at SUNY Albany for the past seven years. During that time, the chapter received a Community Service Award from the Capital District Psychiatric Center in Albany, New York, for continued service and support to the patients of CDPC. In addition, chapter membership at SUNY Albany increased from a dozen or so students to a yearly average of 100 members. A point system and committee structure was also introduced to motivate students to participate in university and communitywide projects and events. The Psi Chi Chapter at SUNY Albany is the largest and the strongest honor society on campus.

Dr. Altarriba's research centers on issues in memory and cognition with an emphasis on bilingual language representation and second language acquisition. Dr. Altarriba has won numerous awards for teaching and mentoring, most notably the University at Albany's Excellence in Teaching Award and the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching from the SUNY system. As faculty advisor and mentor for various organizations, she was honored with SUNY Albany's President's Undergraduate Leadership Award as an Outstanding Student Organization Advisor.

Send correspondence concerning this article to Jeanette Altarriba, PhD, Department of Psychology, University at Albany, State University of New York, Albany, New York 12222; telephone: (518) 442-5004; e-mail:

Copyright 2001 (Volume 5, Issue 2) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology



Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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