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ASU academic advisers excel during pandemic


SMS Advising team

Top: Orenda Griffin (left), assistant director of academic services, Mary Ann Bucciarelli (right), student support specialist senior. Bottom: Academic success specialists Jesús Villa (left) and Sarah Johnson (right).

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February 22, 2021

In an age when colleges are struggling to meet enrollment goals and the public continues to question the value of higher education, Arizona State University's School of Molecular Sciences academic advisers are excelling and helping a record number of students.

Today, perhaps more than ever before, academic advisers are doing everything in their power to assist students.

In the past year, School of Molecular Science advisers have handled 3,217 appointments, both in person and virtual, plus an additional 289 walk-in students. They have also had 8,000 SalesforceSalesforce is a software that provides customer relationship management service. cases; Mary Ann Bucciarelli, School of Molecular Science student support specialist senior, is a power user and processed 75% of them.

“I’m a firm believer that retention is based on student connections,” said Orenda Griffin, assistant director of academic services in the school. “When advisers build rapport with students and they feel supported they will come to you with challenges they face throughout their academic journey. This allows us to give meaningful advice and make the appropriate referrals. As the saying goes, 'It takes a village.' In this instance it takes a collective effort across the university. Many times this starts with advisers who truly care.”

Jesús Villa and Sarah Johnson, both academic success specialists, and Griffin and Bucciarelli all feel that during these unprecedented times students need support, encouragement and clarification more than ever. The school's advising team provides all of that to students in multiple ways.

Johnson had the inauspicious task of beginning her position in the school in March 2020 when learning was mostly remote.

“I have seen lots of student success even in my short time at ASU," Johnson said. "It is hard to pick one, but I do see many students working through their programs while working at their current jobs and being a parent. Each semester is a success story as they move forward towards their degree.”

“I feel like the main thing that makes students feel at home at ASU and wanting to stay, is building a friendly, personable relationship with the student so that they feel like an individual instead of a number in a huge university,” Villa said. “My ASU undergraduate adviser excelled at making me and his other students feel seen and heard, and it definitely made me want to stay in the program and keep coming back, so I try to emulate his example as much as possible.”


Video by Mary Zhu and Mariela Lozano

Griffin earned a Bachelor of Science in business administration from California State University Los Angeles, and later earned a master's degree in business administration. As the assistant director of academic services in the School of Molecular Sciences, she is able to help students persist academically, discover their potential and achieve their goals. She is committed to student success and improving retention while not compromising the student experience. She consistently collaborates with faculty and staff to accomplish this.

Johnson, an Arizonan native, has had a passion for supporting students since her undergraduate career. While earning a Bachelor of Science in psychology, and during her studies for a Master of Arts in school counseling, Johnson continually sought opportunities to help students achieve their academic goals. Now she is excited to be supporting the students of the School of Molecular Sciences to achieve these goals too.

Originally from New Mexico, Villa began his undergraduate career at Arizona State University in 2007. He graduated in 2011 with a bachelor's degree in anthropology and a minor in religious studies. He worked for two years as a forensic death investigator and forensic anthropology lab assistant for the Maricopa County Office of the Medial Examiner before returning to ASU in 2013 to pursue his master’s degree. He graduated in 2016 with an Master of Arts in anthropology of religion; his thesis, "African Healing in Mexican Curanderismo," focuses on the West African ritual and ethnomedical contributions to curanderismo, the traditional healing art of Mexico and the Southwestern United States.

During graduate school, Villa worked as a success coach with the ASU First-Year Success Center, and rejoined the First-Year Success team as a coordinator after graduating; he was promoted to coordinator senior and head of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences coaching team in 2018. 

Bucciarelli began working for the School of Molecular Sciences in July 2012 as an office specialist senior and in August 2014 was promoted to an office supervisor. She moved to the student support specialist senior position in March 2016. She has a history of working in a secondary educational setting in many different capacities for the last 20 years. She enjoys working with students, faculty and staff, organizing events, and learning new information and challenges.

School of Molecular Sciences bachelor's degree programs train students to be successful in a wide variety of careers including scientific research; health professions such as doctors, dentists and pharmacists; teaching; forensics; regulation; and policy. Students also develop life skills such as communication in speech, writing and teamwork. The school has a history of mentoring award-winning undergraduate students.

The School of Molecular Sciences also offers opportunities for students to get involved in transdisciplinary research and learn how molecular science can address contemporary societally relevant problems. 

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