Auburn University honors five women for advising excellence

Published: February 26, 2021
Updated: March 02, 2021
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Auburn University recognized five professionals for their outstanding work at the ninth annual Provost Advising Awards event on Feb. 24.

Alli Bracewell, Stephanie Wood, Carolyn FitzGerald, Ruthie Spiers and Charla Crowder were honored for their commitment to helping others through advising and mentorship. The awards were given to nominees who exemplify qualities such as interpersonal and human relations skills, professional practices, documented success and documented advisor development.

“Auburn has outstanding professionals throughout our student services, and we are pleased to honor several who have achieved remarkable success,” said Norman Godwin, associate provost for academic effectiveness.

At this week’s ceremony, Provost Bill Hardgrave told the honorees their efforts in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic have been “nothing short of remarkable.”

“Since March 16, 2020, advisors have logged close to 52,000 appointment summaries. That does not include all the countless emails, phone calls and Zoom drop-ins you have responded to reassure our students and help them know we are still here,” he added.

Bracewell, student success coordinator and academic advisor for Auburn Online and the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business, received the Outstanding New Advisor Award. The award honors an advisor who has been advising for less than three years by the nomination deadline and more than 50 percent of their duties are academic advising.

A two-time Auburn alumna and former member of the women’s basketball team, Bracewell is also responsible for advising high school students who participate in Auburn’s dual enrollment program, Auburn First.

Students, alumni and colleagues raved about Bracewell’s willingness to go above and beyond for her students and their families in letters of support received by the awards committee.

“Alli has one of the most unique advising roles on our campus. She has done all advising online since beginning her role, pre-COVID-19,” said Spiers, director of university advising who works with Bracewell at Auburn First. “She advises a combination of non-traditional completer students in the Online Business Administration program and dual enrollment students across the state.

“She could be talking to a working parent in her mid-30s who is completing her college degree one minute then helping a 16-year-old high school student the next. For Alli, this is no problem. She has an unmatched ability to pivot quickly and meet the needs of both of her student groups.”

Wood, an academic advisor for the School of Nursing, received the Outstanding Advisor Primary Role Award. The award is given to an advisor with three or more years of advising experience with more than 50 percent of their duties involving academic advising.

Wood, also a two-time Auburn alumna, has worked with registered nurses returning to college to complete their bachelor’s degree, as well as traditional students. She also serves on the school’s diversity and inclusion committee and chaired an ad hoc committee on holistic admissions, and is currently serving as state liaison for the National Academic Advising Association, or NACADA.

Letters of support for Wood’s nomination praised her for her dedication to the success of each and every student, whether they are in nursing, pre-nursing or another major.

“Stephanie stands out among my colleagues as not only an effective and efficient advisor, but also one who truly cares for and cares about her students,” said Katie Lackey, director of academic advising for the College of Human Sciences. “It is rare for an advisor to have both analytical and soft skills that make an outstanding advisor, and she possesses both of these skill sets.

“The support Stephanie gives is not limited to nursing students and personnel. I have met with many students who are undecided between nursing and human sciences, and they speak very highly of her.”

FitzGerald, an associate professor of Chinese and undergraduate advisor for Asian studies and Chinese in the College of Liberal Arts, received the Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award, which is awarded to an advisor who has less than 50 percent of their duties in academic advising.

FitzGerald has been teaching and advising at Auburn for more than 12 years. She is credited with creating the Asian studies minor and a variety of new courses on Chinese, Japanese and Korean language and culture.

Current and former students recalled in numerous letters how far FitzGerald is willing to go for them. They said her dedication is unmatched.

“Dr. FitzGerald is the epitome of what students look for in an instructor and advisor, always going above and beyond to accommodate, and to inspire her students towards their goals,” said alumnus Brandon Burgess.

“I have worked closely with Dr. FitzGerald in several capacities for more than a decade, and I can honestly say that I have never had a colleague who is more dedicated to the success of her students than Dr. FitzGerald, both in and outside the classroom,” added Traci O’Brien, chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature.

Spiers, director of university advising in the Office of Academic Excellence, received the Outstanding Advising Administrator Award. The award recognizes an administrator with responsibility for an advising unit who has served for a minimum of three years.

Spiers, who earned her doctorate from Auburn, works collaboratively with the advising units in all of Auburn’s colleges and schools to promote consistent and effective advising for all students. She is also responsible for organizing professional development opportunities for all advisors and provides leadership and support to Auburn’s Advisors and Counselors Caucus. She formerly served as the coordinator of the freshman learning community program, an academic counselor and director of the Exploratory Advising Center.

While managing so many different advising units can seem overwhelming, new and veteran advisors commended Spiers for handling the task with dedication and professionalism.

“Those of us who have had the great privilege to work for and with Ruthie know how blessed we are,” said Deb Paradis, academic advisor for the Exploratory Advising Center. “She is the epitome of a servant leader. She motivates people to give their best and consistently guides the direction of Caucus toward providing the best and most effective advising for AU’s student body.”

“In all honesty, Auburn University has a superhero in Ruthie,” added Beth Yarbrough, director of student services in COSAM. “She has led Auburn through exceptional change before and during the incredible challenge 2020 has provided. She has done it with expertise, grace, respect, humor and a smile.”

Crowder, information technology specialist in the Office of the Registrar, received the award for Outstanding Student Support Representative. The award recognizes a professional serving in a non-advising role whose work and collaboration positively impacts advising across campus.

An Auburn alumna, Crowder came to the Plains in 2016 after a long career in IT and programming for the manufacturing industry.

She is known in the registrar’s office and around campus for her efforts with DegreeWorks, the online degree-auditing tool for students and advisors. As the program’s technical lead, Crowder manages the coding of curriculum changes, analyzing and troubleshooting system problems regarding degree audits, as well as identifying data, information and operational needs of users.

“Charla has been patient and persistent in improving DegreeWorks, and this has allowed it to be more and more useful across campus. This program is central to students’ academic experience of working to meet their degree requirements, and the functionality of degree audit, registration planner and ‘What if’ options can really help students navigate the myriad curriculum requirements and options they face,” said Associate Registrar Cary S. Curtiss. 

Besides DegreeWorks, Crowder helps the registrar’s office and student services offices across campus with IT and student records-related needs. With the COVID-19 pandemic, Crowder had to do any troubleshooting remotely.

“She has helped us all stay up and running, and she is always ready to jump in and help,” added Curtiss. “Charla is unfailingly kind, helpful and has a keen mind for problem solving. She is a pleasure to work with, and Auburn is better for having her here.”

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.