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Low Demand for Gov. Peer Advisers

By Kevin J. Wu, Crimson Staff Writer

One semester after the Government Department added a new Peer Concentration Counselor (PCC) program to its advising structure, those involved have reported low response rates from concentrators in a large department that has struggled with improving concentrator satisfaction.

“We are aware from talking to PCCs that many of them have not been sought out, and are thinking of ways to raise their visibility,” Director of Undergraduate Studies Cheryl B. Welch said in an e-mail about the new student advisers.

With the second largest pool of undergraduate concentrators, the Government Department has consistently ranked low in the annual senior exit survey among concentrations. While showing improvements since 2008, the 2010 survey ranked the department fourth to last in the College, with an average rating of 3.92 on a 5 point scale.

Government Department Chair Timothy J. Colton said the department plans to hold a thorough review of the concentration, including the advising system, this fall.

Many of the PCCs, informal advisers who are not assigned advisees, report having been contacted only by two or three students in a department that counts more than 400 undergraduates as concentrators.

“[The PCCs] are ready to talk to people, and they haven’t talked to as many people as they want,” Welch said on Monday.

The concerns over the limited utilization of the new advising initiative was addressed at a meeting last semester that included Welch, Coordinator of Undergraduate Studies Karen Kaletka, and the PCCs.

According to Welch, the Government Department has taken a number of measures to publicize the new program. Along with creating a page for each PCC on the department’s website, all department faculty, government concentrators, and pre-concentrators were e-mailed about the new program.

“Part of the reason [for the low student response rate] is because it’s a new program and people are still utilizing the other channels,” said Daniel M. Chung ’11, who after his first semester as a PCC recalls having had conversations with a total of three concentrators and pre-concentrators.

Shan Zhu ’11, who has not been contacted by anyone seeking help from a PCC, dismissed the possibility that the program hasn’t taken off simply due to the fact that it is new.

“If people aren’t asking us questions, then they aren’t interested,” she said.

To increase awareness of the program, the department plans to provide the PCCs with funds for them to hold welcome events for freshmen after this year’s housing lottery, according to Welch.

The PCCs, a group of 16 juniors and seniors, began their role last fall as the Government

Department continued its campaign to reach out to concentrators.

“We’re supposed to have more of an insider perspective on the department. We’re there to tell them what certain courses are like, what kind of professor I should seek out, what sort of internship opportunities are available, and things like that,” Chung said.

“It also helps because students feel more comfortable talking to other students about their concerns,” PCC Gregory A. DiBella ‘12 added.

The creation of the PCC program last spring was part of a series of advising initiatives designed to bring advising resources closer to students. It adds to the department’s move, begun in 2006, towards a house-based advising system in which each house is assigned a resident and non-resident tutor.

The PCC program provides a direct network of peers for students to reach out to based on their own concentration and career plans.

“We try to kind of get a balanced group—men, women, people who are athletes, people who are intending to write a thesis, people who think they won’t write a thesis, and so on,” Welch said.

—Julia L. Ryan contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Kevin J. Wu can be reached at kwu@college.harvard.edu.

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