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Keeping in Touch: Steven Zinn
Honored as Outstanding Advisor
By John Wray
ndergraduate advising neither starts with matriculation nor ends at graduation, according to Steven Zinn, an associate professor of animal science. "We should begin our advising when our prospective students are still in high school, and our involvement with them should continue until they are firmly established in a career," he says.
Zinn practices what he preaches. His talents and hard work as a dedicated advisor and mentor received recognition when he was named winner of the University's "Outstanding Advisor Award" for 2001-02.
Zinn, who joined the UConn faculty in September 1990, holds a bachelor's degree from Cornell, and a master's and Ph.D. from Michigan State University, all in animal science. An avid researcher in animal growth and lactation, he has ample opportunity to give promising students interesting work in his lab.
Starting Before the
Advising students before they enroll helps them get a better start at the University, he adds, and allows the department a better opportunity to evaluate their academic strengths and direct them to the most appropriate classes. This early contact helps incoming freshmen feel more comfortable discussing their classes and future goals with their advisor when they arrive on campus.
Last fall, Zinn met with over 150 incoming animal science students to discuss their class schedules and help them through the registration process. He also participated in the WOW summer reading program and the animal science freshman orientation, and conducts a First Year Experience class for freshmen to help them become acclimatized to college life.
In addition to his "official" group of 40 or so pre-veterinarian advisees, Zinn has scores of "unofficial' advisees. These include incoming freshmen whom he has met through the department's summer recruitment telephone campaigns, open houses, and pre-registration programs; students he has met through his First Year Experience course; upper class students seeking to change their major or modify their career path; graduate students; and finally, former advisees.
Seven Years After
One such student, Merin Boehm '95, now an assistant scientist at Pfizer in Groton, says Zinn has been her trusted advisor since her freshman year and is still helping her seven years after graduation.
"When I first arrived at UConn," says Boehm, "Steve asked me what I wanted to do for my career. He was honest with me about the effort it would take to achieve my goals. But he also offered me many opportunities, guided me in the right direction, and allowed me to work in his laboratory during my junior and senior years.
"And he didn't let me flounder when it came time to make tough decisions about what I would be doing after graduation.
"In each step of my career after graduating from UConn," Boehm says, "Steve not only gave me his advice, but assisted me by recommending me as a scientist to his peers in the field. He has always been supportive of the decisions I have made, and honest when he knew I could do better. Today, seven years after graduation, he's still positively affecting my life!"
Zinn says Boehm was one of his first advisees. "When she contacted me about a new job opportunity in Connecticut, it was my pleasure to have an opportunity to help her."
Merin returned the favor, by talking to his class about her new job with Pfizer and her job search process.
"It is wonderful to see our people develop, from high school students who are looking for guidance, to college students who want to choose the right major, to graduates entering a career and moving up the ladder," says Zinn. "To think that you have helped them to make some of the right choices and helped them achieve their goals; that's got to be the biggest thrill there is."
"If we want to do the best we can for our students," he says, "we must take the time to interact with them."
He encourages all his advisees to meet with him at least once a semester to help them establish a set of classes for the following semester, to assist in developing goals and expectations for their career, and to evaluate their approach to college life, including academic performance, study habits, work ethic, and extracurricular activities.
Zinn uses e-mail to contact his advisees throughout the semester, and encourages them to make appointments for future advising so he can keep them up-to-date on scholarship and employment opportunities, academic deadlines, and seminars and workshops.
Based on each advisee's academic performance in the first two or three semesters, Zinn works with the student to develop a two- or three-year academic plan that matches their goals with their academic strengths and interests.
"We must help our students recognize that their faculty advisors are approachable and trustworthy," he says. "When a student feels comfortable with an advisor, it becomes much easier to help solve whatever issues they face. That's why I maintain an open-door policy. Often, students will just stop by my office to talk for a few minutes to discuss class conflicts, possible employment opportunities, graduate school, resumes, or just to talk about life."