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Warnell advisor receives campus-wide recognition for his role

Matt Head’s ‘student-focused’ approach, use of technology cited in Outstanding Advising Administrator award

 

He might not be a superhero, but to faculty and students at the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, Matt Head’s advising skills certainly seem to raise the bar to a lofty level.

Sure, accolades from his co-workers express gratitude for his expertise and knowledge, but other words used to describe Head, who advises about 200 students in Warnell’s professional program, seem to go a bit further: “wizard,” “superhero” and “extraordinary listening abilities,” for starters.

Head was recently named UGA’s Outstanding Advising Administrator, one of four awards given out each year among UGA’s advising community. The award not only recognized Head’s work with students, as he assists with schedules and works with their faculty advisors, but also acknowledges his leadership among his co-workers in Warnell’s student services area.

At Warnell, students fall into two categories: “pre-professional” and “professional.” Head advises professional students, which are students who have been officially accepted into Warnell’s degree programs and are completing classes toward that goal. In this position, Head has streamlined processes and developed new methods of tracking student success, and also created documents to help with planning schedules and needs from faculty advisors. His leadership extends across campus as well, twice serving as chair of the UGA-wide Academic Advising Coordinating Council as well as a number of UGA- and Warnell-level advisory committees.

“Matt exemplifies excellence in undergraduate academic advising in every way, and his efforts to share his knowledge and expertise demonstrate leadership and innovation on many levels,” says Robert Bringolf, Warnell’s associate dean for academic affairs. “He is an innovative leader, extremely knowledgeable of the advising process. His advising approach focuses on the student and their academic and personal success, and his dedication to excellent advising extends well beyond the Warnell school.”

This student-centered approach is central to Head’s overall advising philosophy. He says he believes strongly in connecting positively with students and rewarding engagement. Being open to students’ questions, encouraging an open-door policy and empathizing with students can have a huge effect on their overall college experience, he says.

“I feel it is vitally important to consider a wide array of cases when considering the effects of actions on students, and I pay attention closely to financial concerns, remembering my own struggles to make ends meet in college,” he says. “Additionally, I always try to remember that one more credit hour or one more course might not seem like a lot on paper, but they represent a lot of work for students. Appreciating the student perspective helps me to help them.”

Head adds that using technology as a tool when advising students has always been one of his special interests. Over the years, he’s taught himself how to use database programs and is constantly looking for ways to be more efficient. By relying on technology to perform small tasks, it reduces human errors and allows Head to dedicate more time to his students.

“Over the years, I have carved out enough time to review students’ schedules ahead of upcoming terms, catching scores of small mistakes and oversights that would have had outsized consequences for students in our tightly scheduled programs,” says Head. He’s developed a program that allows him to check a student’s courses against requirements for various minors and certificates, giving them additional options that can fit into their schedules, and also created a tool that tests for course conflicts before a student leaves his office. “I have also used available technology to improve faculty mentoring in general, creating programs of study and course sequences that are informative and easy for faculty mentors to use.”

And students notice the effects of this efficiency. In exit interviews, students’ comments about Head were overwhelmingly positive, noting his helpfulness and commitment to their success. “He has kept me on track to graduate and has been an invaluable asset in my experience at Warnell,” wrote one student. “Matt Head was always a problem solver for me,” added another. A third student simply noted, “Matt Head is MAGIC!”

All of this translates into managing student anxiety, says Head. When students are confident about what they are doing and feel supported, and when he works more efficiently so he can focus more on student needs, the overall result is a better college experience.

“While I strive to remain open to new technological options, new theories and new methods, I have found the application of my philosophy to have a significant positive effect on the satisfaction of students, including their ability to enjoy college life,” says Head. “Using technology, I have improved efficiency and saved time, enabling me to focus on empathizing with students, advocating for students and managing student anxiety. In turn, I help students to engage in their degree programs and college life in a meaningful way.”

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Matt Head

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