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June 2010  |  Return to issue home

'Good Listening' Earns Tom Halverson Top Advisor Honor

The College of Education is proud to give Tom Halverson the 2010 Outstanding Advisor Award. This honor recognizes Halverson’s support of student growth and development in his role as an adviser.

The Outstanding Advisor Award was established in 2010 and is based on nomination reviews by representatives from several of the College’s student groups, including: Associated Students of the College of Education, Educators for Social Justice, and the Graduate and Professional Student Senate.

Tom Halverson
Tom Halverson

When Tom Halverson, a lecturer and senior researcher in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, received the e-mail congratulating him on his 2010 Outstanding Advisor Award he thought it was a joke.

"At first I couldn’t tell what it was," he explains. "I had to read it three times before it sunk in! It was such an honor, especially because it comes from student nominations, to receive this recognition."

Halverson’s modesty belies an incredible capacity for academic leadership and mentoring. As one of his advisees, Cassady Glass Hastings, states, "Tom has not only helped me build a network of colleagues that will serve me in my post-graduation pursuits, but he has also acclimatized me to the life of a faculty member by modeling the kind of teacher, researcher and adviser I hope to become. There is no better person to teach me about how to conduct and communicate quality and ethical research, being an effective and reflective teacher, and being a conscientious and collaborative adviser. For me, Tom is a role model above all others."

So what makes him such a strong adviser? Halverson says that the foundation of good advising is simple—good listening. He jokes that his role as a father of two gives him an opposing perspective to his academic work, allowing him the humility and humor to understand that the simple act of listening is a huge piece of good advising.

But what is the aim of advising? While some would say that it's to help a student graduate on time, to prepare a student for his/her intended profession, or to encourage students to achieve maximum academic achievement, Halverson says that these goals are second to building confidence. Without faith in oneself and one’s vision of the future, it may not be possible to graduate on time, get the dream job or a perfect GPA.

"We have such smart students at the College," says Halverson. "They are so bright but they don’t know everything. Advisers have to help these students feel comfortable with questions that they are afraid to ask. Past that we have to help them gain independence, which takes patience and listening. You have to make time because advising is truly an investment."

And Halverson’s advisees plan to pay this investment forward. Wesley Henry, a doctoral student in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies, says he plans to emulate Halverson’s methods of communication with his own future advisees.

As Henry explains, "Dr. Halverson models effective communication and support skills, asking probing questions and framing realities within the academy in honest and accessible ways. He does this while keeping students focused on the next steps required to complete their academic work…Dr. Halverson pushes those who seek his guidance not to simply follow his research interests; on the contrary, he inspires us to reflect upon our experiences and our interests. I believe that this is the sign of a true adviser."

Halverson credits his own advising abilities with the lessons that he received as a student at the UW College of Education. He cites Ken Sirotnik, Don Williams and others for “teaching me the value of investing time in advising.”

Brad Portin also played a tremendous role, teaching Halverson the importance of supporting students through tough choices in their academic careers. As Halverson elaborates, "Adult learners often encounter circumstances that hinder them from their full potential. Whether it’s a family or health matter, advisers can help students understand that these are choices which reflect longterm balance, not an inability to succeed academically."

While his own academic advisers led the way, Halverson continues to learn from his colleagues. He cites Marge Plecki as a rare adviser, a colleague who "sets the benchmark for good advising." From her easily approachable nature to her ability to improve the mood of her advisees, Plecki has taught Halverson to, "take the work seriously but not to take oneself too seriously."

This could be a challenge for a faculty member at a top-ranked college of education where research is a top priority. But, in fact, Halverson argues that the College is able to walk the fine line between advising/teaching and research, hiring faculty who are simultaneously community members and academic powerhouses, such as Meredith Honig and his other colleagues in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. He says that his relationship with this team allows him (and his colleagues) to safely rely upon one another for expertise and guidance.

The intelligence and ambition that his advisees demonstrate certainly helps him as well. Take his first doctoral candidate to graduate, Cassady Glass Hastings, who, as Halverson explains, "made me look awfully, awfully good due to her own talent and gifts."

Yet as Glass Hastings explains, "As an adviser, Tom has scaffolded my transition from student to scholar. He encourages and includes me in activities that promote my professional goals, but he has gradually, and gently, pushed me to take ownership of my ideas and my scholarship. For example, at the beginning of our advising relationship when I was uncertain of my academic skills, he provided comprehensive feedback in the form of a sandwich: positive feedback/compliment, constructive criticism, positive feedback/compliment. However, in preparing to defend my general exams we had a conversation about how this was a turning point in my scholarly preparation and I needed to start acting more like a scholar…Today, in the final editing stages of my dissertation, his feedback takes the form of 'questions' and 'suggestions' because ultimately it is my scholarship to own and defend."

"I’m old enough and smart enough to know how lucky I am," Halverson solemnly states. "Not everybody is lucky enough to have a job that they enjoy and that they’re pretty good at doing. I was lucky enough to find this combination through fate, perseverance and good luck."

Halverson acknowledges that it’s perseverance that will help his own advisees get through graduate school. While fate and luck come into play somewhere further down the line, his job is to help them work hard and define their own vision.

"This career requires you to sacrifice to get through," he explains. "I’ve got one poem in my arsenal of quotes that helps to capture the experience and I give this to a number of my students, including my doctoral students. When they find themselves at a fork in the road I have to help them stay committed":

The Way It Is
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you can do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

—William Stafford

Here are several more quotes that guide Halverson in his life and advising efforts:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.—Maya Angelou

Too often we underestimate the power of touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
—Leo Buscaglia

'Success?’ Well, I don’t quite know what you mean by success. Material success? Worldly success? Personal, emotional success? The people I consider successful are so because of how they handle their responsibilites to other people, how they approach the future, people who have a full sense of the value of their life and what they want to do with it. I call people ‘successful’ not because they have money or their business is doing well but because, as human beings, they have a fully developed sense of being alive and engaged in a lifetime task of collaboration with other human beings—their mothers and fathers, their family, their friends, their loved ones, the friends who are dying, the friends who are being born. ‘Success?’ Don’t you know it is all about being able to extend love to people? Really. Not in a big, capital-letter sense but in the everyday. Little by little, task by task, gesture by gesture, word by word.—Ralph Fiennes

June 2010  |  Return to issue home

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