By Amber Friedrichsen
Academic advisors often meet with students to help them register for classes, offer career advice, and check in on their overall health and happiness. One Iowa State University advisor gets to provide all of these services in the same space they were provided to him.
Nate Dobbels, academic advisor for agricultural education and studies, attended Iowa State as an agricultural education major. After graduating and pursuing higher education, he eventually wound up in the same department, and office, where he started.
“An opening came up, and my dream was always to make it back to Iowa State,” Dobbels said. “I wanted an opportunity to give back to the place where I had been successful as a student.”
Creating and revising class schedules with students is a big part of Dobbels’ job. He also assists students who have questions about their education plan, internships or full-time employment after graduation.
“Registration is a big piece of it, but there is also what I call the ‘life-coaching,’” Dobbels said. “Whatever a student needs, I always want them to know they can come to me. Even if I don’t know the answer, I will connect them to the right resource.”
Helping students get involved and seek opportunities can be challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, Dobbels has made it a priority to continue advising in ways that make students feel comfortable.
Dobbels made a point to be flexible for his students at the start of the fall semester. He offered phone, virtual or in-person appointments that followed COVID-19 guidelines. These meetings allowed him to identify areas where students were struggling or succeeding.
“They showed a lot of perseverance in their ability to adapt to the situation and keep moving forward,” Dobbels said. “They continued to stay motivated in challenging times. I think that is a true testament to our students.”
One particular new learning environment Dobbels helped students with was AGEDS 211A, a field experience course for agricultural education majors. Normally, students would observe high school classrooms. This year, however, in-person observations were not an option.
Rebecca Trumm, junior in agricultural and life sciences education, took this class in the fall. She said the virtual classroom observations arranged by Dobbels were a unique experience.
“You were there, but you were there virtually,” Trumm said. “There was a teacher from out of state that we would never have had the opportunity to observe, but because we had the virtual option, we did. That was kind of cool.”
Trumm is also one of Dobbels’ advisees. She reached out to him for help when she decided to change her major last year.
“I knew that he would be somebody that I could look up to or contact,” Trumm said. “He is such an approachable person and is very dedicated to his job, and that shows.”
Cole Hiser, junior in agricultural studies, can also attest to Dobbels’ dedication to his job. Hiser said with Dobbels’ help, he finally feels back on track to graduate after being academically dismissed.
“He signed me up for SMART STEPS, which is a tutoring program that keeps me accountable,” Hiser said. “By starting that program, I have learned I need to communicate with my professors and communicate with [Dobbels]. Everyone is here to help me.”
Hiser said he had made mistakes earlier in his academic career. Nonetheless, he is confident in himself to be successful, especially with Dobbels’ support.
“He can see that I am digging myself out of a pretty big hole,” Hiser said. “I think it is cool that he is willing to work with someone who has had those troubles. I’m not just a number to him, I’m actually a student.”
Dobbels’ efforts have not gone unnoticed by the university. He, along with Ben Chamberlain, agricultural education and studies student services specialist, received the COVID-19 Exceptional Effort – Exemplary Team or Unit Award. The award was given in recognition of their exceptional face-to-face instruction and supervision to new Iowa State students during the pandemic.
In addition, Dobbels was recently presented the Professional & Scientific Early Advisor Award, acknowledging his supportive and encouraging personality, and his commitment to his advisees’ success.