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Portrait of Jenna Hoppe

First Year Advising Center evolving to help mentor students

By Blake Sebring

August 22, 2023

Getting off to a good start is the goal of all students, especially those who are entering the world of higher education for the first time. Purdue University Fort Wayne understands that and is always working to help its Dons get the most from their college experiences. The latest example of this is the First Year Advising Center, which is a reimagined and retooled successor to the former Student Advising and Advocacy Center.

According to Jenna Hoppe, the center’s senior director, as many as 75% of students switch majors from their initial choice. One of the center’s goals is to help make that process more efficient, hopefully saving students time and money. The philosophy change has been developed over about five years and implemented over the last year.

“How do we get them to reach out earlier, get them the information earlier so we can prevent them from having these setbacks?” Hoppe said. “That’s when we lose them and they really struggle because they want to be done in four years. With all the financial aid requirements, some of those scholarships will only last for four years, and you have to complete a certain amount of credit hours—and a lot of students struggle to do that, especially the first-generation students.”

Hoppe, B.S. ‘17 and M.S. ‘20, lived through these challenges when she started on campus, changing her major from undecided to nursing to communication sciences and disorders before finding human services. Hoppe credits guidance from advisors Rhonda Meriwether, now director of the Multicultural Center, and Buck Jordan, now director of the Student Success Center at the Doermer School of Business, with helping find her calling.

“I want to step beside them and help guide them because people on this campus did that for me,” Hoppe said. “Those things mattered to me. They said you need to get involved and make a statement here on campus to be part of this because you are only going to get out of it what you put into it.

“I tell the students that if you only put in 20 percent, you’re only going to get 20 percent out of it. May you get a 4.0 GPA, and things will be fine? Sure, that’s possible, but are you going to have connections to any humans, to staff and faculty members who care about you and can’t wait to see you cross that stage at graduation?”

The First Year Advising Center team works with more than 2,000 students each year. They include Allison Murray and Rachel Rivera-Mitchell, B.A. ’18, M.S. ’22, assistant directors, and Kate Long, Danielle Dickow, and Tyler Schoditsch, B.S. ’23, academic advisors, as well as Ranesha Smith, B.S. ’15, director of the student success center in ETCS, along with academic advisors Adam Papp and Brenda Diaz.

The staff starts meeting with students during the new student orientation process and works closely with them through registration for their third semester, at which point they transition to advisors from their chosen college or school. By then, the hope is the students have picked up many of the necessary tools needed to successfully follow a smoother path to graduation and future careers.

“That’s the whole goal, essentially, for us to be hyper-focused on helping all first-year students succeed—and we’re doing it,” Hoppe said. “Relationships are a very important piece.”