An exit interview with Director of the Academic Advising Center John McKusick

Featured image by Bailey Hendricks.

John McKusick worked as the Director of the Undergraduate Academic Advising Center for 19 years. This week, he is retiring from that position. The Towerlight sat down with McKusick to have him reflect on his time at Towson University, and to find out what’s next.

How long have you been at Towson University?

I started at Towson 19 years ago, and actually, Sept. 23, was my anniversary, so it’ll be 19 years and a few days by the time I retire.

What changes have you seen since you’ve been here?

Well, definitely the University has grown pretty dramatically. I’d have to think a little harder in terms of what the actual percentage is, but probably by about 50 percent at least in terms of student enrollment. And then I think the other thing that has definitely changed is sort of the prominence of the University, the visibility to the public, the interest on the part of prospective students in coming here. Towson is definitely a larger feature on the landscape of higher education in Maryland than we used to be when I started here.

What do you feel your biggest career accomplishment is since working here?

Well, I think that the Academic Advising Center as a department has not only helped a lot of students, but also helped faculty to become better academic advisors for their students as well. Because we have kind of a dual-purpose: one is direct assistance to students, especially new students, and students who get into academic difficulty, but we also provide a lot of support, some training, just on-going assistance to faculty to help them do a good job with their students.

What will you miss most about being the Director of the Academic Advising Center?

Well, I think it really comes back to people. So, first and foremost would be students – I really enjoy, even in an administrative role as I have now, I get to work with students on a regular basis, and that’s both gratifying, satisfying and challenging. But I’ll also miss working with my colleagues. There are a lot of really good people who teach and who work here at Towson, and it’s been really enjoyable to collaborate with them on developing new initiatives, new programs, a better way for providing services for students, those kinds of things.

What would you say the best thing that the Academic Advising Center does for students?

Our primary mission is twofold; one is to provide assistance to students who are new to the university, specifically in terms of understanding university policies and requirements, but also in terms of selecting courses, and making decisions about their major and how that connects to career opportunities – so that’s the student side. And then the faculty side is providing them with information, training opportunities, tools, technological tools and how to use those tools in order to be effective advisors with their students

Why are you leaving? What do you have planned after you leave?

Well, I feel like I definitely could work another few years, but my wife retired about a year ago, and so she’s been saying “when are you retiring, when are you retiring?” So, it’s important for us to have some good, quality time. Also, it gives us more of an opportunity to support our family. We have kids in Vermont, and so we’ll have more of an opportunity to visit them, and take care of our grandson and stuff like that. So, I don’t have any big travel plans. Sometimes people say “oh, I’m going to take a cruise around the world.” I don’t have that kind of thing. It’ll be mostly family-oriented, but I love living in Towson, I live just a mile from the University. And I am looking forward to getting involved in some volunteer work, possibly doing legislative advocacy for environmental issues and concerns, and also working – and I haven’t clearly defined this yet – but, working in some way with kids again. I’ve thought about maybe doing something like – it’s called court-appointed special advocate – where an adult kind of serves as a mentor. An advocate for a child who’s gotten – usually through no fault of their own – involved in the court system. So, kind of providing advocacy and support for kids like that.

What made you decide to go into advising?

Actually in some ways, it goes all the way back to when I was an undergraduate in college. I got involved in a volunteer program where students from the University where I attended would go to a Mohawk Indian reservation that was nearby, and we would go there and we would tutor kids, and we would do recreational kinds of things with them as well as academic. That volunteer experience sort of led to one thing after another to a summer job working with those kids and then to a full-time, academic-year job after I graduated from college. And after a short kind of detour to work in the environmental field, environmental education for about four years, I was having a hard time actually making a living doing that. There were plenty of opportunities to do it, but they were all like “oh, we’ll give you $100 a month plus room and board.” You can only go so far and so long with that. So, I got back into working at college settings, working with students who were usually first-generation college students, first in their family to go to college. And that led me to then working at the Community College of Baltimore County for about 10 years, and then in 1998 I came to Towson.

What did you do under this role?

So, I had three sort of major responsibilities. One is in terms of trying to continue to develop the program of academic advising, make it better, make it more accessible to students, make it more helpful for students. Second was in terms of supporting and supervising staff – and so we have 13 full-time staff members who work here in the Advising Center. But then we have a lot of faculty and staff who work part-time for us in special programs like in the summer or in the winter. So supervising those staff. And then the third area was in terms of managing our budget so the typical things that an administrator would do.  

What do you wish more people knew about the Academic Advising Center?

I think it would be that there are lots of different ways that we can help students. So, sometimes students will see, “okay I need to see my advisor to get my advising hold removed so I can register for classes.” It’s very much sort of like a transaction – “okay, I come to see you, you ask me a few questions and you think I’m doing okay, and you take the hold off, and that’s it.” I would like to have more students feel like “I can go and talk with my advisor and can ask a whole range of different questions, I can say “here’s what I’m thinking about in the future, what do you think about that? How do I get an internship? How do I study abroad?”- all those kinds of things that can really make a college experience unique and specific to that student.

What sort of advice would you like to give to students as you leave? Any parting words of wisdom?

I think overall, the vast majority of students have made a really good choice in terms of coming to Towson. There always will be some folks who say “you know, I discovered this isn’t the right place for me and I’m going to transfer,” and that’s fine. But I think the vast majority have made the best choice for them in that the next step is for them to get fully engaged in their education and in the University. And not just academics, but also student organizations, clubs, activities, internships down the road, study abroad, the National Student Exchange Program, there’s so many different things that student can do while they’re here – and to make the most of those years that they have here, whether they started as a transfer student, or as a freshman

Anything else you’d like to share?

Just that I’ve really loved working at Towson. I love working with the students, I think that it’s a great group of students, and I will miss working here. I’m kind of hoping – I think it’ll probably come about – that I can work part-time in one of the advising programs here. That will kind of keep me engaged, but I’m definitely going to continue to be a member of the Towson community. And I really feel like I had a very fortunate and good choice in terms of coming here 19 years ago.

– Compiled by Bailey Hendricks

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