Medill academic and career advising understaffed after several advisers depart


Graphic by Meher Yeda

Medill has lost several advisers this fall, leaving many students unsure of how the future of their academic experience will play out.

Joshua Perry, Assistant Campus Editor

After the departure of several Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications advisers in the course of just three months, students are adapting and navigating new challenges in academic and career preparation.

Former Medill career adviser Fiona Sykes left on Sept. 8. In October, former academic advisers Jessica Scott and Joy Fernandez, along with graduate career adviser Stephanie Bassill, all publically announced their departure from Medill. By November, Daniel Mackenzie was the only academic adviser left.

Medill Dean Charles Whitaker sent out an Oct. 22 statement addressing the “adviser transition” at the Office of Student Life. He noted Medill administrators would make adjustments to help accommodate for inconveniences. 

“We knew students were going to be panicked about registration, and we really needed all hands on deck for academic advising,” Whitaker said.

Staff from career services were temporarily tasked with providing academic advising for students, he said. Whitaker also announced in November he would be personally available to meet with and advise students in need. He said working directly with students is something he enjoys, so he’s glad to have the opportunity.

According to Whitaker, the academic advising team should be fully staffed again by early January. He said he hopes the career services positions will also be filled in early 2022.

For Medill graduate student Sarah Stark, career advising resources for graduate students was one of the main reasons she chose to study at Medill. They were billed as a cornerstone of what the master’s program could offer, she said. It seemed that making progress on career advancement — updating your resume, networking through LinkedIn and more — was built into the master’s in journalism education, she added.

Stark said students in the master’s program weren’t given advance notice about Bassill’s impending departure, possibly due to a miscommunication. To compensate for the advising vacancy, Medill offered temporary appointments with two career coaches, but Stark said those appointments filled up less than an hour after they were announced. 

The lack of official communication from the school has left Stark and others in the master’s program in the dark about when advising would be back up and running. That is especially discouraging, Stark said, because the master’s in journalism program only lasts one year.

“We have no sense of timeline,” Stark said. “It could be two weeks from now — which I highly doubt, because they would have told us that — or it could be six months, or not at all.” 

Other students have relied on advisers for support transitioning into college. Medill sophomore Maggie Sullivan said she had a rough freshman year. She sought support from Scott, her academic adviser, when she was struggling with her mental health and falling behind academically. 

While she wasn’t using the academic advising office to address her mental health concerns, she said her advisers had an intimate understanding of her specific academic difficulties at NU and a plan to overcome them. 

“That was really crucial for me, because without it I don’t know that I would have passed very much last year,” Sullivan said. “I was in a really bad place. So, I’m really thankful for the help there.”

Sullivan said she’s gotten by this quarter with Mackenzie’s help, but she said she’ll miss the close connections she had formed with former advisers.

The departure of Medill advisers has put additional pressure on Mackenzie. He said he’s doing the best he can to keep up with the increase in student demand for his appointments. But at least for now, he said, he’s managing.

“It’s certainly not feasible to create enough time for everyone to have an in-person or Zoom appointment, but I’ve answered every email by the end of every day,” Mackenzie said. “That’s generally how I am surviving.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @joshdperry

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