Pressing Hands to Clay: The Phenomenological Experience of the Advisor as Potter

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2004-04-26

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Title of Dissertation: PRESSING HANDS TO CLAY: THE PHENOMENOLOGICAL EXPERIENCE OF THE ADVISOR AS POTTER

James Michael Limbaugh, Doctor of Philosophy, 2004

Dissertation Directed by: Dr. Francine H. Hultgren

Education Policy and Leadership

This study explores the experiences of seven academic advisors, including the author, in advising first-year college students 17-18 years of age.

Through the methodology of phenomenological inquiry, the author investigates personal experiences to uncover questions about the essence of first-year advising. To open the phenomenon more deeply, the metaphor of the advisor as potter, as one who works with clay, is woven throughout the text. The writings of three philosophersMartin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Hans-Georg Gadamerare explored to understand the existential aspects of phenomenology and of the act of advising as a lived human experience.

A narrative based on individual conversations, written reflections, and group discussion provides insight into the advisors' experiences. Their stories and thoughts reveal the theme of care for first-year college students as the common denominator in each individual's commitment to advising.

The myth of Cura, the potter who creates a human from clay scooped from a riverbed, guides the exploration into the essence of the lived experience of advising first-year college students. Cura, engaged in the experiences borne of actually working in clay, embraces the complexities of advising in friendship, in knowingness, in reciprocity. The connection to Cura within each advisor resounds in resoluteness, transcendence, and potential for being. Ultimately, Cura reveals its essence in the advisors' joy in caring for students during a brief moment of formlessness, just as the potter rejoices in that instant when the clay is formless and without limit.

Recommendations for the profession of academic advising emphasize the priority of care. Professional standards should address caring as a fundamental construct, in addition to knowledge of policy and procedure. Individual advisors should understand fully the place of care in developing an advising relationship based on trust. Additional study in the personal dynamics of advising within a diverse student population is recommended.

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