How to be an Advisor

Professor Advising Student

Serving Students as a Club Advisor

Advising a student organization is an opportunity for Cal Poly faculty and staff to help strengthen communities and support students in doing what they love.

Talk to any Cal Poly student, and you’ll probably hear a story about a club that impacted their life in a positive way. They might tell you about building friendships, discovering a new passion, or securing a career connection. However, none of that can happen without a club advisor. For one thing, club leaders depend on your guidance, and for another, it’s required.

The Advisor Requirement

To be eligible as a recognized student organization (RSO) at Cal Poly, and any of the 23 CSU campuses, a student group must have an advisor. An advisor is someone who is a faculty or staff member currently employed by Cal Poly. Each club must also have: 

  • Five student members.
    Of course, clubs can have more than five, and most do, but five is the minimum requirement. Only enrolled Cal Poly students can be members with voting privileges.
  • A president and treasurer.
    The president and treasurer cannot be on probation and must maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA. Clubs can also have additional officer positions, such as vice president and secretary. However, Cal Poly will only verify the eligibility of the president and treasurer.

Advisor Responsibilities: Your Signature, Please

Club members submit a variety of requests to the university to keep their club operating. For most requests, they will need your electronic signature as a final reviewer. The most common requests include:

Funding Requests

Every year, ASI Club Sponsorship money is available to support RSOs. Most club officers that don’t apply aren’t trying to leave money on the table; they just forget. If your club treasurer isn’t certain whether they applied for and used their club funding, you can ask them to email asiclubservices@calpoly.edu to find out. 

Payment Request Forms

From food for club meetings to apparel to conference fees, clubs can transact a lot of business. To pay a vendor or reimburse someone who has made a purchase for the club, a club representative must submit a Payment Request Form (PRF). While the university allows a lot of latitude in purchase reimbursement items, here are some things we watch out for (and you can, too):

  • Gift Cards
    Gift cards that can be used for the purchase of alcohol, such as gift cards for food or grocery venues that sell alcohol cannot be reimbursed. Because the CSU prohibits RSO funds from being used to purchase alcohol, we can’t reimburse for gift cards that could be conceivably used for that purpose.
  • The Cal Poly Name
    To make a request, complete the Trademark Licensing Request Form.
    Students can request to create products that use the Cal Poly name, marks, or logo. The University’s name is a privilege reserved by law and a club representative must seek approval from University Marketing before creating such a product. This includes printed items, such as apparel or banners, or electronic or other media, such as a website or on social media. Also, for printed items, clubs must work with licensed vendors. The good news is, the folks at University Marketing are very helpful and responsive in reviewing requests. Encourage students to give themselves plenty of lead time before placing their order by filling out the Trademark Licensing Request Form.
  • Receipts
    Students need to hang onto and submit all receipts for reimbursement. Invoices aren’t sufficient.

Facility Reservation Requests

Clubs are event-generating machines: meetings, socials, fundraisers, and anything else one can think of to bring people together. To request a reservation, whether on or off campus, a club representative must submit an Event Plan, commonly called an E-Plan. Once the requestor submits the E-Plan your club president and you, the advisor, will receive an email with a link that allows you to review the request.

It is your right as the advisor to ask questions or share input about the event. You aren’t imposing—you may see an opportunity or challenge that your students do not. In fact, we won’t process an event request without your approval (a fact students should remember if they submit a request on a Friday, expecting your response over the weekend). 

After an E-Plan has been submitted, we will work with your club representatives to assess risk and verify alignment with university requirements. For us to evaluate larger or more complex event requests, it may require involving representatives from across campus to help evaluate and plan for the event. For this reason, there are three different timeline requirements; based on the event request, we require advance notice of 3, 7, or 14 business days. 

Reporting

In your role as an advisor, a student may feel comfortable sharing information with you that they might not share with other faculty or university officials. For that reason, Cal Poly requires that as an advisor you serve as a Campus Security Authority (CSA). If a student reports a Clery crime to you, you have a responsibility to report the allegation by completing the CSA Reporting form

This is separate from your duty as a CSU employee to act as a mandatory reporter. Your role as a mandated reporter is in effect at all times, whether or not you serve as a club advisor. When made aware of any instance of discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and/or sexual misconduct (including dating and domestic violence and stalking) involving a Cal Poly student or employee, a mandated reporter must report directly to the Office of Equal Opportunity by emailing equalopportunity@calpoly.edu. 

Questions About Reporting

It’s natural to have questions about reporting something.

  • How do I know what to report to whom?
  • Should I report something even if I don’t have the full story or I have reservations about the accuracy of the account?
  • What do I do with my concern about getting someone in trouble if I don’t have all the facts?

If you have questions, email the professionals at the Office of Equal Opportunity at equalopportunity@calpoly.edu. They can respond with answers and help provide direction.

Remember, it is not your responsibility to determine whether something took place. Rather, the responsibility to gather information belongs to trained university professionals who provide a neutral setting for students, faculty, and staff to address their concerns. Your responsibility is to simply report what you know. Email equalopportunity@calpoly.edu to ask questions or learn next steps.

Advising Students

As an advisor, you have the authority to empower student clubs to succeed. Most of the time, that isn’t through direct control, such as issuing directives, but by advising.* As brilliant and self-driven as student leaders at Cal Poly are, they need you. They will benefit from your wisdom and expertise as an advisor. At the same time, they will appreciate how you consistently reinforce the message that they have the right to govern their own decisions. 

For instance, they may not understand some of the elements of the way a university operates, or perhaps they may need help in understanding how to delegate responsibility to others. These are moments when an advisor can, in one moment, provide instruction and, in the next, allow students to think through issues and processes for themselves. In many cases, advisors will attend officer meetings to act as part of the team, sometimes offering suggestions, other times raising questions during a brainstorming session. Good advisors recognize that not only can they help students plan a fundraiser or club meeting but also they can step back to allow student leaders to strengthen their own skills in problem-solving outside the classroom. 

Sometimes that means an advisor will suggest a course of action and then allow students to make their own plans, even if that means the result is a failed attempt. An advisor knows that allowing students the freedom to learn from making their own choices can be just as important as the success of a club event. 

Caution: Cal Poly faculty and staff have a reputation for going above and beyond for their students, which is wonderful. But remember to allow students to the heavy lifting of running their club. It is seldom wise to invest more energy into a club than students are willing to commit. 

*Note: The exception, of course, would be instances that involve safety, conduct, or any violation of laws and policies; in these areas, you may need to take direct action, and whenever appropriate, notify university officials.

Questions and Answers

Why do faculty and staff become advisors?

The short answer: students need them. If a student starting a club sought you out, they were probably motivated by the CSU requirement that every club must have an advisor. However, whether they realize it or not, their success can often hinge upon your insights and contributions. Many clubs that have succeeded in meeting their goals did so because they had an advisor in their corner who wanted them to prosper and helped them build a plan to succeed. (As an aside, it can be quite an honor that a student group thought enough of you to ask you to advise them.)

If you were to ask them, many advisors might tell you they decided to volunteer as an advisor because it coincides with who they are and why they decided to serve in education in the first place. They look forward to the opportunity to interact with and encourage students outside of their typical responsibilities. 

Advisors usually build the closest relationships with their club leaders as they collaborate on projects and discuss plans and challenges. In this way, advisors can step outside of their usual dynamic with students to act as coaches and confidants. For many, it can be deeply rewarding to help students determine their own success criteria, encouraging them to take part in shaping their college learning experience. 

Can I encourage students to start a club?

Absolutely. Many faculty and staff have inspired new clubs, specifically focusing on areas that coincided with their own interests or field of study. They saw a need and helped receptive students to build a new campus community. In some cases, those clubs garnered additional student interest in a field of study or helped pave the way for funding opportunities that benefited students involved in a program on campus.

Caution: Remember that student organizations should remain a community that is governed by students for the benefit of students. If, for instance, the students decided to take a club in a different direction than you had envisioned, would that be acceptable to you? If not, and if your potential student organization would benefit from learning outcomes, consider looking into an Instructional Related Activity (IRA).

What is the time requirement for being an advisor?

Once the advisor has completed the training and the organization has been recognized, that organization will remain active through the remaining academic year until the subsequent October.

In terms of commitment during the year, the answer may seem cliché…but it depends. Some advisors are very active. They care immensely about a particular student pursuit or perhaps the club is an academic or professional organization that coincides with an advisor’s field of study. Other advisors may not be available to be as actively involved or perhaps the club may not have as many responsibilities or meet infrequently. 

If you decide to serve as an advisor, do so on terms that work for you. If, for instance, club meetings are Tuesdays at 8 p.m., it might be unrealistic for you to regularly attend meetings. Instead, be selective about what you can do, and let your club officers know your intentions.

How should I build connections with my club leaders and members?

Here are some ways you can positively impact your club. You can take part in club meetings, officer meetings, special club events, and set up times for your club president to meet with you one-on-one.

Club Meetings

Frequency: Try to attend at least one club meeting per quarter. More is always appreciated.

Action Items: These are great opportunities for club members to be able to meet you. When you attend, consider arriving early and staying after the meeting ends. That will give you an opportunity to chat with some of your officers and introduce yourself to a few students. For students you don’t know well, it’s helpful to have a few questions in your hip pocket. How long have you been coming to club meetings? What do you like about this field/activity? What’s your story? It is amazing to witness how students, who might be reserved in a classroom or office setting, can open up in the neutral ground of a club meeting.

Officer Meetings

Frequency: Many clubs have officer meetings. Attend club officer meetings as your schedule permits; once per quarter minimum is advised. Some advisors maintain that officer meetings can be even more impactful than club meetings because that is where many of the decisions are made. If you wish to attend regularly, and their meetings are during an inconvenient time, ask your president if they would consider rescheduling.

Action Items: During these meetings, you’ll have the opportunity to be a part of your club leaders’ inside discussions. They will come to lean on you for input and guidance, but be sure to empower them to make their own decisions, too. 

Special Events

Frequency: This depends on the club. If they are putting on a flagship event requiring plenty of effort, strongly consider attending at least a portion of the event. 

Action Items: Use that time to connect with several students, including your leaders in charge of the event. If you are able and interested, volunteering to help with some element of the event can be deeply rewarding. 

President One-on-Ones

Frequency: Whether or not you can do any of the above items, meeting with your president (or your chief officer team if that seems appropriate) can make a big difference to your club. Try to meet with your president once a quarter. You might meet more often depending on the need of your president, the size of the club, or the complexity of their offerings and events.

Action Items: Club presidents quickly learn that leadership can be lonely work. They often feel that the world is on their shoulders and they must broadcast a sense of confidence even to their leadership team. One of the greatest gifts you can give them is to demonstrate genuine curiosity about how they are doing and listen.

Do I accept personal liability as an advisor?

As employees, advisors are indemnified by the CSU. Each employee is protected under the university insurance program while acting in the course and scope of employment. Cal Poly will protect and defend employees that are named in a civil action that results from their role as a club advisor when they are acting in the course and scope of this part of their job. 

Why do I have to take a club training?

It's required, and it's designed to help you in your role as advisor. Training for officers and advisors is one of the Executive Orders required of all CSUs. The Clubs & Organizations Office, a department within Student Affairs, officially recognizes Cal Poly clubs based on university standards and requirements, which include a current registration. In order to remain active (e.g. access club funds, receive ASI Club Funding, submit E-Plans), all presidents, treasurers, and advisors must complete the online training annually, and every club must re-register each year.
The training is designed to help you support your club officers. It provides information on club funding, event scheduling, and other processes club leaders have to perform regularly. 

How can I help equip my club for success?

As you grow in your relationship with your club members, you will probably know better than most how to encourage the success of your club. Here are some ways you can help your club to flourish this year and for years to come.

Goals and Accountability

Every student who leads a club does so in the hopes of accomplishing something. You can help keep your club leaders accountable for the goals they have established. If their club has been around for a while, or is affiliated with another organization, those goals should tie into that legacy, building on the foundation others have laid before them. Ask your club officers to work together to establish their goals at the beginning of the year, then check in with them to ask about their progress throughout the year.

Planning

When you are present for officer meetings, feel free to ask questions about their upcoming plans. Questions are a terrific way to prompt students to think about their processes and strategies in a non-threatening way.

Evaluation

What worked and what didn't work? After meetings, events, or recruitment efforts, encourage them to think through successes and deltas. This can be a positive experience that instills in students the habit of healthy reflection. 

Outward Thinking

Some club members think only in terms of their next meeting, event, or fundraiser. There's nothing wrong with that. However, some of the stronger clubs at Cal Poly, the ones that have built cohesion, think about others in addition to their immediate needs. They plan a community service project, create an alumni social, or try to involve outside community members in some way.

Transition

When you meet with your presidents and officers in the spring quarter, meet with both the outgoing and incoming president. Help them think through their transition needs: event notes, contact lists, passwords, etc.

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