Staff Profile / Nancy Sisko, Director of Undergraduate Advising

Submitted by Henry J Laufenberg on

This past winter it was announced that the College of Arts and Sciences would undertake a major reorganization of humanities undergraduate advising.  All departmental undergraduate advising has since been consolidated into an integrated humanities undergraduate advising center called Humanities Academic Services, which will be fully operational in fall of 2020.

Although we are extremely fortunate that Dr. Nancy Sisko, the English department’s Director of Advising, has accepted a position as Associate Director of the Humanities Academic Services Center, this marks an end of an era for the department.  We had to say goodbye to three exceptional advisors who have been integral to students’ academic journeys. Nancy Sisko, Tim Bradford, and Amy Feldman-Bawarshi have welcomed and guided thousands of undergraduate majors into and through the department. Beyond shepherding English majors through educational and career choices, our advisors acted as contact points for all students who might interact with the English department, students with questions about composition course options, or study abroad programs, or Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts requirements, and any and all other inquiries.  Most importantly, our advisors were the welcoming presence of the department. Indeed, for many students, it might even be fair to say the advisers were the department, insofar as they were the ones that helped weave separate courses into a curriculum and thus a coherent, individualized, educational experience.

The loss of our departmental advising unit hits close to home for many of us.  And we’re sure for many alumni as well, who have had unequivocally positive relationships with our amazing team of advisors.  In a touching display of fealty, current English undergrads of their own accord went up to bat for our advisors, mounting a campaign to retain the English department’s advising office.  This effort, led by senior Addie Augsburger, merited a story in the UW Daily, which quotes Augsburger’s testimonial to the value of our in-house advising:

“I feel like the advisers at the English department have been so incredibly helpful for me as an individual,” Augsburger, a fourth-year English and political science student, said. “I would not have done the honors program if I hadn’t gone in last spring and talked to the adviser about doing something different.”

In a letter to College of A&S leadership, Augsburger also relates that English advisors were key parts of her financial well-being and academic aspirations:

"Without [my advisor’s] direction and encouragement I would not have applied to several scholarships or the English Honors program. I not only received funding from several of those scholarships, I am now on track to graduate with departmental Honors in spring 2020."

English Matters would like to take this opportunity to honor Nancy Sisko, our Director of Academic Services and Undergraduate Advising, and one of our most wonderful long-time staff members. As director of English Advising, Dr. Nancy Sisko, in addition to mentoring generations of students, has also advised the department on curriculum revisions and initiatives while helping us connect our work to other departments and local communities. During the pandemic, Nancy has supported the department and our students through everything we have faced. It could not be more deserving that she was named the 2019-20 Adviser of the Year by the UW Association of Professional Advisers and Counselors. The APAC Adviser of the Year Award is presented each Spring to a member of the UW advising community who has done outstanding work over the previous year.  The last time an advisor from English was honored with this prestigious award was 1998. It is wonderful to see Nancy get this recognition that she so richly deserves.

An assortment of individuals from the English Department community have stepped forward to testify to what Nancy Sisko has done for and means to us.  

Professor Jesse Oak Taylor, Director of Undergraduate Studies:

I can’t imagine running the undergraduate program without Nancy. I ask her everything. She always knows.  I’m blown away by the care that Nancy devotes to our students. She radiates compassion. We have hundreds and hundreds of them. She knows them all. They come to her not only for advice about what classes to take, but also their anxieties, their personal crises, their aspirations, and their accomplishments. Periodically, an alum shows up in the office just to tell Nancy what they’ve been up to. Others get her to officiate their weddings.

Last year, when I got back to my office after graduation, there was a student outside the advising suite with her mother. It was locked, and she was despondent because the person from English she wanted her mother to meet was Nancy Sisko. Fortunately, I had a key, and Nancy was in her office, and they were all chatting away as I left the building.

Professor Mark Patterson, Former Curriculum Coordinator:

Over the years, English faculty come and go, even as intellectual movements appear and disappear.  What has remained central and paramount is the work of the English Advising Office.  Nancy Sisko has followed in a long line of English advisers who have devoted (often unnoticed and certainly underpaid) time and energy to help students shape their undergraduate careers and their personal lives.  We (faculty, staff, and students) have all been traumatized this year with the end of English Advising and Covid-19 Pandemic, yet Nancy has continued in her incomparable professional manner.  She has remained compassionate with colleagues and students facing difficult times and decisions, and she displays remarkable loyalty to the University of Washington.  If there is a question about scheduling, or program changes, or student requirements, everyone turns to Nancy, and she invariably knows the answer or makes an insightful suggestion, or shrugs her shoulders with a wry and ironic smile.   "Well, whaddya going to do!," she seems to say.  The English Advising Office has been a haven for undergraduates who needed a signature, a suggestion, and, more often, some attentive listening.  Nancy has always shown her kindness, compassion, and grace under pressure to them and to all of us lucky enough to encounter her during the day.  When I think of something that makes the UW special, it is Nancy Sisko.

Bridget Nordquist, Senior Academic Advisor, Integrated Social Sciences:

I had the great privilege of working with Nancy Sisko in English Advising for over five years. She has always been incredibly dedicated and hardworking, and a fantastic, collaborative leader. Her care for and dedication to students was evident to me on a daily basis (my office, across from hers, gave me a “bird’s eye view”). Even though she might see as many as twenty students (or more) in one day during busy times of the quarter, she gave each student her full attention and the individual help they needed, whether the question or problem was big or small. Many times, I would hear students say how great it was to have found the English major and English advising (Comp Lit major/Cinema studies major and advising). They said it made the University feel like a much smaller place. For some, it was the first time they felt supported in a major that does not hold the ready glamour of Business or Engineering for job potential. Nancy, Amy, and Tim all helped students to see their strengths and all the great job skills they will graduate with as English/Comp Lit/Cinema Studies majors.

I think anyone who knows Nancy would agree that “hardworking” is an understated way of describing her. Over the years, she has worn many hats, from assisting faculty with managing study abroad (before Amy Bawarshi so adeptly filled this role) on top of her regular English, Creative Writing, Comparative Literature, and Cinema and Media Studies advising and Director’s work, to managing the English Honors Program, to supporting faculty and her fellow staff. When she was my Director, I absolutely loved her leadership style; she invited collaboration while providing direction, insight, and organization. We three advisers were a team, with a steady captain at the helm.

Professor Shawn Wong:

I rely on Nancy's help and guidance many times during every quarter, as well as everyone in the Advising Office in the past from Mel Wensel on.  I always tried to schedule my preference for teaching undergraduate classes based on my conversations with Advising and their sense of what students needed.  I also learned through them about students who needed special attention and might not feel like sharing.  Nancy also helped me massage the red tape and bureaucracy surrounding study abroad classes, the maze of various W-course, DIV, VLPA, and other UW credits, telling me yes or no as to whether my attempts at bending the rules would work or not.  I also worked with Nancy when she was a staff person at the Robinson Center and I was Director of the University Honors Program.  Those stories and the administrative difficulties we shared are stored in a mental vault, not for public consumption.

Professor Stephanie Clare:

Students always tell me how wonderful Nancy is. She clearly has been crucial to our department’s undergraduate community. Last quarter, I had the privilege of teaching an awesome student who explained to me that she would not be at the UW (or in college) were it not for Nancy. When she applied, she was homeless, and Nancy walked her through the entire process, including what made it financially possible for her to be here. We all owe Nancy so much.

Mary Kelleher, 4th year English Honors, Outreach Coordinator Bricolage literary and visual arts journal:

Nancy has been such a positive influence on me during my years at UW!  It’s clear that Nancy cares greatly about all of the staff and students in the English department, and I was so saddened to hear that this is her last year as an English advisor at UW. She makes such an effort to make her students feel supported and confident in their choice to pursue an English degree, and the English department truly won’t be the same without her.

English Matters enthusiastically signs on to all these testimonials.  Congratulations on the new gig Nancy!  We’ll miss having you in our everyday work lives, but celebrate your relocation to the Humanities Academic Services center, close by and still intimately involved in making the English Department a great place for our students.