Holistic Advisers: Advising the Whole Student


Leslie Marsicano, Assistant Dean for Academic Administration, coordinates the pre-major advising program, also known as the Holistic Advising program. Today, Marsicano shares what she believes are the values and benefits of this program, and its impact on the Davidson student experience.

What do movie stars, Olympic athletes and Davidson students have in common? Each of them can call on teams of experts to help them develop to their full potential and maximize their chances of success. While stars and athletes rely on agents, coaches and personal trainers, Davidson students’ support teams can include study abroad advisers, career counselors and peer tutors, among others. The captain of a Davidson student’s team is the Holistic Adviser.

Holistic Adviser meeting

Holistic Advisers are faculty and staff who are chosen for their interest in getting to know first-year and sophomore students as individuals, and their commitment to helping students achieve their dreams. They bring a wealth of experience to their roles, both personal and professional. All of them remember what it was like to be a student adjusting to college, discovering one’s interests and talents and making important decisions about one’s future. Some of them were varsity athletes, balancing academic and athletic commitments. Many studied abroad. Some were the first in their families to attend college, or remember what it was like to be a member of a minority group on their campuses, to feel like an outsider for a while until they found their way. Many of them can point to a mentor who helped and supported them. Often, they have experienced personally what research suggests – that the knowledge that even just one person cares about them individually can help students succeed in college and persist to graduation.

Holistic Advisers receive on-going training in the Davidson College graduation requirements and are well-positioned to guide students in developing their individual curriculum and choosing a major. But they don’t stop with academics. As their name implies, Holistic Advisers are interested in the whole student and care about their advisees’ health, wellness and social adjustment to Davidson. They check in with their advisees at least twice a semester and are available more frequently as needs arise. As generalists, Holistic Advisers know a little bit about a lot of things and can answer common questions about curriculum, internships, research opportunities, resources for stretching a budget and the like.

Most importantly, they know who the campus experts are and can direct advisees to on-campus specialists for more in-depth help and support. Struggling with a term paper? The Holistic Adviser knows how to make an appointment at the Writing Center. Need professional clothing to wear to an interview? The Holistic Adviser can direct you to the professional clothes closet at Lula Bell’s Resource Center. Is the campus starting to feel a bit claustrophobic? The Holistic Adviser can suggest a weekend trip with Davidson Outdoors. Wondering if it’s possible to get a lab science credit while studying abroad? Holistic Advisers can recommend the walk-in hours at the Office for Global Education. Need to go home for a family funeral? Holistic Advisers can help notify your professors of your upcoming absence and recommend the Student Counseling Office’s grief support group when you get back.

Of course, it is possible to graduate from Davidson College without ever developing much of a relationship with a Holistic Adviser. Some students are fiercely independent and choose to go it alone. That’s perfectly acceptable, of course, but it is a missed opportunity. After all, the kind of personal relationships that Holistic Advisers can provide is one good reason for choosing Davidson College. We hope parents will encourage their Davidson students to make the effort to connect with their Holistic Advisers. They will be glad they did.


About Author

Leslie Marsicano is the Associate Dean for Academic Administration at Davidson College.

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