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Student Advocate provides valuable service

UofL's student advocate helps students find help when they don't know where to go.

Attending a university requires students to have a certain level of knowledge before they can participate fully in and benefit from higher learning. Most have prepared well during high school and even earlier. They come ready to succeed.

Attending a university also requires students to have a set of skills which many do not have — and never have had the opportunity to acquire. Never before have they needed to negotiate through the rules, regulations, policies and paperwork it takes to be a university student.

Sometimes an inability to comprehend the system and work within it becomes overwhelming. Sometimes life becomes overwhelming. Students become frustrated, their coursework suffers; they may drop out.

That is why students need an advocate — someone who is on their side, who has a thorough knowledge of the University of Louisville, not just from one unit’s perspective, but from a broad perspective.

We created the post of student advocate two years ago to help students who need help and don’t know where to find it. Dr. Prafula Sheth assumed the post, and her comprehensive knowledge of the university has served students well.

The student advocate reports to the vice provost for undergraduate affairs rather than to one school, college or unit, because issues in which students need help often cross those boundaries. Her services extend to all students at UofL — from first-semester freshmen to graduate doctoral students or professional degree students — at both Belknap Campus and the Health Sciences Center.

Dr. Sheth likens her job to that of a concierge at a hotel who can tell a guest where the best restaurant is in town, or an insurance agent who cannot repair someone’s car after an accident, but can tell him where to repair it. The student advocate doesn’t “fix” students’ problems, but she does help them find the person who can.

During the 2006-07 academic year, her confidential services helped nearly 200 students who encountered real or perceived barriers to successful academic careers: a problem with a campus office or faculty member; questions about a university policy or procedure; a general feeling of melancholy or anxiety. That number does not include those she helped via a one-time e-mail or telephone contact. Dr. Sheth estimates that she has from five to seven face-to-face meetings with students each week, and receives four to six telephone calls a day from students who need guidance or simple clarification of policies and procedures. As one would expect, requests for her services peak around critical times of the semester, such as last day to withdraw and final exams.

Dr. Sheth says her primary job is education. She teaches students patience, how the system works, where to find information and how to get the help they need. It’s a lifelong learning skill.

If you know of anyone who might benefit from the student advocate’s help, please refer that person to Dr. Sheth at 852-8113 or advocate@louisville.edu.

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