One of the rewards of being an academic advisor is helping students through difficult times and then watching them flourish afterward, says Smriti Kansal Patwardhan, an academic advisor and coordinator for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE).
For instance, when an international student came to talk to Patwardhan a few years ago, she was homesick, hadn’t connected with anyone, and felt all alone, says Patwardhan, MS Electrical Engineering ’04. “Engineering is hard enough, and she was trying to manage all these emotions on top of her studies.”
She found the young woman a study group and a student organization with members from her home country. “I helped her adjust through that first year, and she blossomed and graduated with honors.”
Patwardhan is known among Mason Engineering students and faculty for her willingness to go the extra mile in all aspects of her job, and for those efforts, she was awarded the 2020 Jade Barricelli Spirit of Academic Advising Excellence Award, a peer-nominated academic advising award.
In 2016, she was named the V. Ann Lewis Academic Advisor of the Year, an award given to an advisor nominated by students.
Patwardhan didn’t plan on becoming an advisor. In fact, she didn’t have an advisor when she was an undergraduate earning a bachelor of engineering in electronics in India.
After graduation, she worked as an engineer in India then came to Mason to earn her master’s degree. She started to pursue a PhD while working as a research faculty member, but after her first child was born in 2006, she decided to take a break from work.
Then in 2012, the ECE department asked her to come back as an advisor. “It was all a new experience for me. I had no clue of what to do and what not to do,” she says.
She got input and guidance from faculty and peers and quickly excelled in her new role.
Now she conducts the orientations of all the new ECE students, hosts prospective student visits for the department, and advises several groups including Honors College students, those in special international programs, and anyone who can’t find a faculty advisor.
She works closely with the department’s faculty who are advising other ECE students. “All 600 undergraduate students can come to me whenever they want.”
In addition, Patwardhan reviews course evaluations, works on the department’s undergraduate curriculum committee, helps with class scheduling, and coordinates the publication of the department’s newsletter.
Her technical knowledge often comes in handy. “My engineering background helps. I tell students, ‘I am an engineer. Don’t take these courses together, because I know this will make it too hard for you to be successful.’ And they listen to me.
“When people bring in transfer credits, I know what makes sense to count and what doesn’t make sense.”
The hardest part of her job is not being able to help everyone and making tough decisions. There are so many challenges our students go through––health problems, financial problems, family problems. I want to do everything I possibly can to make school easier for my students.”
Monson Hayes, chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, says, “She is a remarkable advisor who is committed to being the most effective advisor that she can be. Her approach to advising is one of compassion and understanding, and she is keenly aware of the struggles and difficulties a student may face, both academically and personally. She is a great listener. She is never judgmental, and she is an extremely effective communicator.”
ECE Associate Chair Pelin Kurtay, agrees, “Smriti is an indispensable asset to our faculty advisors and plays a tremendous role in the success of our students. Her knowledge about policies and university resources, coupled with her background in engineering, means she can quickly provide students with access to the support they need, bring a swift resolution to their issues, and provide a personalized plan that best meets their individual needs.”
Patwardhan is passionate about her job. “I love it,” she says. “I am an engineer helping future engineers.”