Robert Pans wins NACADA award: “We help students to reflect upon themselves”

Robert Pans was presented with the NACADA (Global Community for Academic Advising) Outstanding Academic Advising Administrator award at a ceremony in Las Vegas on 4 October. He was nominated for the award by Professor dr. Philip Vergauwen, Dean Maastricht University School of Business and Economics (SBE).

Pans has been with the SBE since August 1987, first as member of the teaching staff and then as a student advisor. He is now head of Student Advising and Academic Counseling Career Services

Scan_MFP-000105_0144_005In the early days of SBE, 30 years ago, Robert Pans began advising students on a part-time basis. but it became soon clear that the function required more focus and time commitment. “Initially, I took care of traditional student advising activities,” Pans says. “The activities for student advising back then mostly had a reactive character, but over the years we’ve developed a comprehensive and intentional vision for students.”

In 1996, he co-founded the UM-wide council of study advisors, the Studentenbegeleiding Universiteit Maastricht (SUMa), and since 1989 he has played a leading role for LOSE, a communication platform for student advisors working in economic faculties.

Pans began advising students full time in 1991. And in 2001, the Student Advising and Academic Counseling Office of SBE was born, with five staff members. “Nowadays, we look at the whole, based on what is called ‘whole person learning’—the academic expertise, personal skills, personal attributes and personal experiences of the student. It’s more proactive counselling, rather than reactive advising.”

Beyond SBE, Pans has contributed to the broad area of professional student advising, including the national association for student advisors, the Landelijke Vereniging van Studieadviseurs (LvsA). And Pans recently started CS-Connected, a body that exchanges initiatives and ideas in the field of career services for business schools on a national level.

Looking beyond the scores

Over the years, Pans has noticed how the students have changed. “They’ve got a lot possibilities these days, but that doesn’t make it easier,” he says. “The new ways of financing their study, the great competition among the students and the desire of many students to graduate cum laude, the pressure of the social environment, and so on.”

Scan_MFP-000105_0330_001All of these factors put new pressures on students, and require a new approach to advising them. “There’s no laissez faire mentality at the university,” Pans says. “I think a lot of students are actually having a difficult time. And that applies to international students, too. The Netherlands’ democratic culture, and especially Maastricht University’s problem-based learning method, are a culture shock for many international students.”

Pans says each student should be considered for more than just their scores. “It is so important to look beyond just the scores. We concern ourselves with all student issues, including their wellness and study success. In our conversations with the students, we help them to make their own roadmap to graduation and decide how they will develop the competences and skills to achieve this goal.”

Never a dull day

Even after so many years, Robert still is very motivated – and an enthusiastic storyteller when it comes to his work. “This job is fascinating,” he says. “It’s never boring. No two weeks are the same; there are always new questions to answer.”

Pans finds a lot of satisfaction in the role he is able to play in the students’ development. “We, the members of Student Advising and Academic Counseling Career Services, help students every day to reflect upon themselves,” he says. “We help them connect their personal strengths and interests with their academic and life goals.”

Pans is confident that his team, which he describes as well-balanced and very competent, will continue to provide quality service to students and keeping informed and up to date with what the university has to offer. “Holistic learning requires close cooperation with the teaching staff and the pedagogy of academic learning,” he says. “We play a leading role in the university-wide development of student advising and academic counselling, but as head of Student Advising and Academic Counselling, I know also that we’ve got to make sure we keep ourselves up to date with all the new developments in academic learning.”

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