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Dr. Panciera Wins Berea's Advising Award

Dr. Michael Panciera, chair of Berea’s agriculture and natural resources department, received this year’s Paul C. Hager Award for Excellence in Advising. Advisors are nominated by students for their hard work and dedication to providing sound academic and social counsel for their advisees.

Dr. Michael Panciera

BCnow sat down with Dr. Panciera to discuss the award. Here’s what he had to say:

BCnow: You received the Award for Excellence in Advising at Berea’s commencement this year. Is that the first time you’d received an award that’s voted on by students?

Panciera: Here at Berea College, yes. Decades and decades ago I won an award in the agronomy department at Ohio State, when I was there for three years.

BCnow: How did it feel to win the award, especially since you had no idea that you were going to get the award prior to its announcement at graduation?

Panciera: It was pretty amazing. I guess the role I see advising having is helping people to achieve their goals, which is why I came here, so it was particularly gratifying. I had no expectations of getting it, so it was pretty sweet.

BCnow: What do you feel that it takes to be a good advisor?

Panciera: I think being attentive to the students and trying to hear whether they have formulated their goals and if they have, trying to help them achieve those goals. It’s mainly a role of listening and then trying to help the students follow through on what they want to do.

BCnow: How important is the role of the advisor to the student?

Panciera: It depends on the student, I would say. Many students need guidance or they need assistance, and for them I think it’s extremely important. Other students need somebody to bounce some ideas off, and that’s a different kind of role – still important to them – but different. Some students come here knowing exactly what they want to do, they’re very focused, and they know exactly how to get where they want to go. So it’s less important for them.

BCnow: Do you mainly advise students in the agriculture department or do you have freshmen as well?

Panciera: At various times I’ve had freshmen from a number of other different departments.

BCnow: I noticed that at graduation, when the award was announced, a group of your students stood up to give you a standing ovation. What is it like, as a professor and knowing your life’s work is the students, to have those students applauding you?

Panciera: It helps that they’re in the A’s and in the front row but, like I said, you come here to help students and you help them through advising and classroom work and through labor supervision and in a variety of ways. But their response just added that much more to the good feeling of getting the award.

BCnow: What are your memories of that class of students?

Panciera: Actually, only one of those students was my advisee. I had all of them in class as freshmen, then again as seniors. We’re a small department, and we do formal and informal advising and –because the labor program is tied to our program – we see these people every day. We have numerous opportunities to ask them how they’re doing and find out if they need help.

BCnow: Because of the award do you expect an influx of students coming in and seeking you out as their advisor?

Panciera: (Laughing) I don’t know, I don’t know if that will be the case or not. It would surprise me if that sort of thing happens. But, like I said, I think students in this department tend to use many of the faculty for advisors. They’ll have one who is their formal advisor and they’ll use a number of folks for various reasons to get some informal advising

BCnow: Do you think that makes it easier to have that collaborative effort – like it takes a village to raise a child – does it make your job easier or more rewarding?

Panciera: Absolutely makes it easier. Well, I don’t know if it makes [advising] easier, but it makes it easier to do your job. Because every individual is different and everyone relates to things differently, so sometimes students are not prone to share something that they need with one individual – they will with another. So I think it’s important to have a range of personalities in the department so students can talk to different people about different issues. No one person can do it all by themselves.

BCnow: Has your experience here at the college – in your roles as both advisor and professor – differed from your experience at other institutions?

Panciera: I came here from a research-based situation. I had been doing agricultural research – primarily research – for about ten years. I kept on finding new excuses to teach, so I decided to make a shift in the direction in my career towards teaching. The reason I did that because I felt that developing people was something that I had some potential to do. I knew what I could do on the research front and I just felt that I had the potential to teach.

I had taught for three years at Ohio State early in my career and enjoyed it, and then made the shift to research, and then came back.

BCnow: Where did you research?

Panciera: In Alaska. During that time we started a program at the community college, and then an off-site program for students who were trying to get an agriculture and natural resources degree.

That was a small situation too – by small I mean it was not overrun with students. At Ohio State there were ALOT of students, so you got to know a few people. In Alaska I knew a large number of people, but most of them were commuting and coming and going, so there wasn’t that sense of cohesiveness. Here it’s very much so. For most of the students here I think it works quite well and it certainly feels good from a professor’s standpoint to be able to relate to students in the classroom, in the labor program and in extracurriculars as well. It’s more comprehensive. It’s pretty engaging to relate to students at Berea – I think more so than most places.

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