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Helping Students Map Their Path

Advising Director Shanna Pendergrast Helps Students Map College Paths

College of Arts and Sciences Director of Advising Shanna Pendergrast knows first-hand how important it is for students to talk to professional college advisers about their studies and career options.

When she began her studies at King University in Bristol, she thought she wanted to be a doctor. In time, she decided that career path wasn’t a good fit. She ended up majoring in chemistry instead of biology.

“Then (after deciding not to pursue medicine) my thought was, ‘What will I do with a chemistry degree?’” she said. She figured that being a pharmacist was her best option—until a pharmacy school admissions officer asked her, “Why do you want to be a pharmacist?”

“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t.’ And it was all because I didn’t ask myself that question. I just figured (pharmacy school) was what I was supposed to do.”

After seeking advice and doing some soul searching, Pendergrast—who had always loved the university atmosphere—realized what she wanted to do. In 2006, she enrolled in the College Student Personnel master’s degree program at UT.

Pendergrast started working as a graduate assistant in the UT Dean of Students office while she was in graduate school. In 2010, she joined the advising team in the College of Arts and Sciences. She became the associate director of advising services in 2017 and was named director in July.

“I love that it’s never the same. No two days are alike. I thrive on problem solving and putting together puzzles, which is really what academic advising is,” she said.

As director, Pendergrast will devote much of her time to leading and supporting the college’s army of professional advisers.

She’ll also help transition the college to a different academic advising model. In the past, students worked with professional staff advisers during their freshman and sophomore years and then worked with faculty advisers during their junior and senior years. During the past 12 years, the college has increased its number of professional advisers from four to 27. Since 2020, each student has been able to work with a professional academic adviser throughout their undergraduate career. That will allow faculty to focus on being subject matter experts and mentors rather than advisers.

Pendergrast said being a good adviser means “caring about students, wanting them to be successful.” It also means paying attention to details and having “flexibility and the ability to pivot, meet the student where they are.”

Advisers help students articulate their goals and then explore their passions through majors, minors, and experiences, such as study abroad opportunities, internships, research experiences, or the occasional class outside their comfort zone, Pendergrast said. In short, advisers help students become well-educated, well-trained, and well-rounded people.

It’s all part of encouraging students to take control of their own life’s plan.

“I tell them, ‘No one knows you better than you do,’” Pendergrast said.

When she’s not working, Pendergrast loves cooking. During the pandemic, she taught herself to make pasta from scratch. Now she’s trying to learn how to make sausage by grinding various meats, adding spices, and filling casings with the mixture.

Story by Amy Blakely