Academic Maps to Help Students Sail the Seas of All Different Degrees

Written by: Madeleine Jenness

In collaboration with faculty at the University of Washington Bothell, the Associated Students of the University of Washington Bothell (A.S.U.W.B.) are launching a new program for students to visualize their academic journey called “Academic Maps.” 

Academic Maps were created as a resource for students to visualize a four-year plan for their degree. Once released, hopefully in mid-January, there will be a planning sheet for every degree offered at UW Bothell. The maps show which classes are prerequisites for the major and gives a tentative outline for when to take them. Academic Maps will also give students advice on other things they could be doing while pursuing the degree, such as internships and job shadowing.

“In MyPlan, there’s this tab that says ‘find programs’ and here… it lists every single degree that UW Bothell has to offer. And then if you click on a degree, it will have that map,” said Djelli Berisha, the Director of Student Advocacy for ASUWB. “Currently, Bothell is the only school that has these in the UW. system,” said Berisha. “A lot of the campuses are really pushing for material like this because a lot of students are requesting the need for it.” 

ASUWB saw the need for a tool like this and they worked to get it to the students in just a short time. “It was brought up last year that students feel the need to have a resource for them to visualize their degree, but not also [sic] so much just their degree but whether they’re on-track to being in their major, on-track to graduating, ultimately, that work has now progressed into these Academic Maps where students are able to visualize these four years,” said Berisha. 

Michael Albellar, the Student Advocacy Senator for ASUWB, commented on his own experience navigating his degree. “I am actually a first-gen college student. So my first year here on campus, I was extremely confused with how everything just worked and I knew what I wanted to do, I just didn’t know how to visualize it on a piece of paper… I actually went to my academic adviser. I would say every single week because I had a question about something about my degree… And it was her suggestions and her writing down everything that really helped me visualize, like, what I need to get done, what I need to get accomplished. So that’s how I kind of discovered the need, just through my own experiences,” said Albellar. 

Through students’ feedback, ASUWB gathered that a tool like this was needed. “I know for a fact that a formal survey was not sent out,” said Berisha, “Everything that Student Advocacy proposes as an initiative is driven by student feedback, so there has to have been some kind of quantifiable student need for it. I would assume that this came from some sort of Welcome Week survey.”

It is the job of ASUWB to promote the voice of students and to find solutions to problems that are brought up in order to support them. “ASUWB serves as the student body representative voice that is kind of the liaison between students and faculty,” said Berisha. 

“We serve as a reflection of the student body and we try to advocate for change on this campus and we do our best to try to listen to all concerns on campus for everyone,” said Albellar. 

Academic Maps are going to be a useful resource both for people already at UW Bothell, as well as for those who are looking to transfer into specific majors. “You don’t have to be a UW student to utilize this. You can login to MyPlan with a Google email or Facebook. So if you’re currently a community college transfer student [or an international student]… you can structure your classes in community college so much that when you transfer to UW Bothell, you will have these classes done, and the classes you take in community college won’t be a waste of your time,” said Berisha.

But students are not expected to follow the timeline of these maps at all. Rather, they are designed specifically so that they can be customized. “No two students will ever have the same experience or the same sequence of classes throughout their four years, everyone’s degree is going to be different,” said Berisha. “This is actually all made in word. So it’s really easy to manipulate for each individual student.”

“The Academic Maps are extremely tailored to the individual. It’s not something that’s like cut-and-paste for everyone,” said Albellar. “Going to an adviser and seeing what classes they have taken, and what classes they have left will be really useful for them. And it’s that personalized degree map that will get them there,” said Berisha. The students themselves can also download it on MyPlan and see like ‘oh, I need this class, I can take this during this quarter on [sic] this year.”

The information on the Academic Maps will also expand to cover co-curriculars that students could do while pursuing their degree, helping them to stay competitive. 

“It helps people become employable. It’s not all about what classes you take and when you need to take them. Like for example, if you’re a pre-med student, your second year you might want to consider volunteering. Your third year, you might want to consider shadowing, a possible summer internship,” said Albellar. 

“On the back of [these] is going to be a co-curricular side… We hope that it will provide career pathways, which we’re still in the process of developing. What that is is if you pursue a Biology degree… you can [see] different fields in Biology and what those might do,” said Berisha. 

The hope is also that the co-curricular planning would include advice on what you should do if you’re interested in continuing onto grad school for that degree as well. But, we’ll have to wait a little while longer for that aspect. “Those are still in the process, we want to roll out these Academic Maps as soon as possible… And then we will re-vamp it with the degree factors,” said Berisha. 

Presently, the hope is that the Academic Maps will come out mid-January. 

The vision is to eventually make it into an even more interactive plan where the students could easily see when specific courses would be offered and what the prerequisites for them are, thus being able to manipulate their degree for their own needs. “We are hoping that at one point these will move out of MyPlan and into a personal webpage on the UW Bothell website that makes it like this interactive tool for students to utilize,” said Berisha. 

Berisha described that this can help students whose community college credits may not apply to the degree they’re wanting to pursue, making it so they have to take more classes than they may have anticipated. Academic Maps can assist by giving students a guideline before transferring. “We’re hoping that these will smooth out that transition,” said Berisha.

“Another thing that we’re hoping this will do is ultimately lower retention rates. Between the first and second year, and the second to third year, is when we see the most students drop out of university… A reason for that is academic difficulty. So if they can’t get into their major, or if we don’t offer their major here, then they are more likely to drop out and transfer to another institution,” said Berisha.

ASUWB is a student-led organization that works to ensure the student voice is heard by the University, as well as enacting and advocating for desired changes to the campus. The launch of Academic Maps aligns with the points of direction that ASUWB laid-out in their newsletter in late October as the drive behind the activities they will be promoting this year. Their five points of change include:

1. Change is needed for Community Engagement 

2. Change is needed in Student Representation 

3. Change is needed to Empower Students 

4. Change is needed for ASUWB Partnerships 

5. Change is needed for Justice, Equity, Accessibility 

(from the ASUWB Newsletter on Oct. 29th)

“The team [ASUWB] consists of many different departments, like student advocacy where Michael and myself lead, government, outreach and marketing, community projects outside the UW,” said Berisha. “Together, we work collectively to ensure accessibility to educational resources that this campus provides, transparency in all the projects that we are doing, and we work to take the initiative on advocating for change on this campus.”

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