By  Eric Williamson

“Should I take this course?” “How do I apply for that scholarship?” Undergraduates in the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science naturally have a lot of questions. 

And each year, students can count on helpful guidance from all of the school’s supportive and knowledgeable advisers. 

This year, though, six advisers — members of the faculty as well as affiliates — are being recognized for going above and beyond. 

Fady Attia, Reid Bailey, James Bland, Claire Culver, Natasha Smith and Mitchel Rosen have won the 2023-24 Undergraduate Advising Excellence awards for their dedication to providing top-notch academic customer service.

Read what student nominators had to say about their indispensable advisers:

Fady Attia Built Bridges for Rising and Transfer Students

Attia is a biomedical engineering student who serves as an Undergraduate Research Fellow. His nominator views him as a bridge who never seems to tire of lifting up others. 

“His unwavering support has been the cornerstone for countless high-schoolers and transfer students, ensuring a seamless transition into UVA,” one student said. “Meeting Fady was a turning point for me, the driving force behind my decision to commit to UVA.”

Attia is good at helping undergrads because he has recently been through some of the same challenges.

“What truly sets Fady apart is his own journey as a first-generation student here. From countless conversations I had with Fady, it is apparent that he had to navigate college solo, being the eldest sibling in his family without a guiding hand. This unique experience has made Fady not just knowledgeable but exceptionally empathetic.” 

Reid Bailey Enabled Student to ‘Self-Design’ Coursework

Bailey serves as Professor of Systems Engineering Rodman Scholars. A student nominator said that when they asked to customize their undergraduate learning, the professor made it possible.

“Professor Bailey has always gone out of his way to help me shape my UVA academic path, even when it's gone outside Systems and Information Engineering. He was able to find me information about using a second writing requirement class to fulfill my Science, Technology and Society requirement, walked me through the process of self-designing my concentration, and would ask multiple people, if necessary, what classes I could use for different requirements.”

The student added that the professor “was very approachable and supportive of any path I wanted to pursue. I felt I could ask him about anything and he'd give me good advice.”

James Bland Encouraged a ‘Hopeless’ First-Year 

Bland is director of the UVA Center for Diversity in Engineering. He helped keep a student from faltering when they reached a low point.

“James helped me so much during a time where I was hopeless as a first year,” the student said. “This was my first time ever on the brink of failing a course, and I didn’t feel comfortable talking to any of my friends or classmates, because it seemed like no one else was in the position I was. James was such a friendly face with wise words at that time, helping me navigate whether to continue the class or to withdraw. I’m extremely thankful for him.”

The student also had words of praise for Bland’s staff.

“All together they have created an environment that multiple people, especially people of color, within the engineering school can go to for studying, socializing or advising. 

“There were times that I did not have the means to get a meal, but I would go to the CDE and there would be something for me to eat. There were times where I would feel lonely, but I would go to the CDE and be able to interact with friends and be introduced to new people to talk to.”

Claire Culver Reaffirmed Her ‘Fairy Godmother’ Status

Culver connects questions with answers as the undergraduate coordinator for Materials Science and Engineering.

“Ms. Culver is often referred to as ‘the fairy godmother’ of the Materials Science and Engineering major,” one student wrote. “She is the go-to person for any questions or concerns about class registration, event organization, personal problems, professional advice and connections. 

Culver doesn’t have a magic wand. She just uses her experience to work through problems together with students.

“From my first year at UVA, when I was trying to make a decision about what major to declare, Claire sent me resources and connected me to students she thought I would benefit from speaking to. 

“Throughout my time as a major, whenever I have had an issue or question about my schedule, I was able to go to her for very well thought out advice.”

Natasha Smith Stayed Faithful to a Student on a Mission

Smith serves as an associate professor on general faculty and teaching tracks. She is also director of Undergraduate Mechanical Engineering. She received a nomination from a grateful student whose faith took them away from their studies for an extended period.

“For two years while I was on my mission in Texas and Brazil, she kept in contact and helped me completely stay on task and in the loop of how to leave and reenter the University without incident,” the student said. “She helped me prepare in a timely manner to return to studies.”

The student also lauded Smith for treating them like a colleague, even when the student might not see something the same way.

Smith, the student closed, “consistently helps me find the exact right core classes and electives to complete my undergraduate education, and helps me to prepare for my graduate education.”

Mitchel Rosen Advised an Aspiring Rodman Scholar

Rosen is an associate professor and director of data governance & IT Risk Management. He received kudos from a student whom he helped put aside their uncertainty. The student capitalized on his advice and became a Rodman Scholar. 

Rosen, the student said, “provided thoughtful feedback on my essays, helping me articulate my achievements and aspirations effectively. His guidance was instrumental in my successful application to the [Rodman Scholars] program, which has since opened doors to advanced coursework, research opportunities, and a community of like-minded peers. This achievement has been a cornerstone of my undergraduate career, shaping my academic trajectory and bolstering my confidence in my abilities.”

Practicing effective communication techniques, the professor created an environment where the student could trust their own decisions. 

“Throughout our interactions, Professor Rosen has shown a remarkable ability to listen actively and provide personalized guidance. He has challenged my assumptions and encouraged me to broaden my perspective, particularly in terms of career opportunities and academic choices.”