5 questions with… Sylvia Marrero, four-year advisor and associate dean

Photo of Sylvia Marrero

From friends to coaches, professors to resident assistants, countless people shape our college experiences. Among them at Case Western Reserve University? An academic advisor assigned to each student for all four years.

One such advisor is Sylvia Marrero, who also serves as an associate dean in the newly created Undergraduate Advising Support Office in the Division of Student Affairs.

Through the office’s four-year advising program, Marrero is one of over 30 dedicated advisors with whom incoming students are paired. Along with the other advisors, she works with her advisees from the time they arrive on campus through graduation, helping them design collegiate experiences that align with their goals and interests.

The office, established in 2023, involves smaller caseloads for each advisor than the previous model, allowing a broader opportunity to proactively ensure students feel immersed and supported in CWRU’s culture. Marrero and her colleagues work alongside faculty advisors to provide a team-based approach to academic advising to best serve students as they work toward their degree. 

“Every day, we strive to support, advocate for, and empower our undergraduate students in their academic pursuits so they can achieve their personal and professional goals,” Marrero explained. “It’s an incredibly rewarding job.”

A path to higher education

The role is just Marrero’s latest as a higher education professional. Originally from Bangladesh, she moved to Chicago with her family at a young age before attending college at nearby Northern Illinois University. There, she earned her bachelor’s degree in family and individual development with a minor in psychology en route to becoming a high school teacher. But a conversation with Alan Farber, a counselor in Northern Illinois’ career center, inspired her so much she shifted her focus. 

“In a very serendipitous kind of way, I fell into this field,” Marrero explained, crediting her advisor’s guidance. “It’s always been about student engagement, though. If I have the ability to make an impact on students’ lives, even in small ways, that’s what I value most.”

Marrero launched her career 18 years ago as a career advisor at an online university in Chicago, earned a master’s in counseling at National-Louis University, completed a graduate internship at Northwestern University and even became a National Certified Counselor.

She ultimately moved to Cleveland to join Case Western Reserve in 2013 and, in the decade since, has held many roles. Her roles have been in CWRU’s Career Center, Office of Undergraduate Studies, Student Advancement, and Undergraduate Advising Support, all of which helped shape the perspective she applies to her work today. 

Helping students forge their paths

While the services Marrero offers are consistent across her advisees—including regular check-ins and hands-on guidance—no two days are identical. Students come to her struggling with concerns such as how to be sure to select the right major and career path to pursue. But thanks to her unique perspective from having worked in both career and academic advising, Marrero is able to offer very personalized guidance—and her advisees take note. 

“You never hesitated to give me the hard truth, but never stopped believing in me,” wrote one such student who nominated Marerro to receive a Golden Ticket to the university’s 2023 convocation ceremony. The ticket was a show of respect for Marrero’s impact on his growth at CWRU. 

When asked what advice she’d give to all undergraduate students, Marrero doesn’t hesitate: “Seize the day” (or “carpe diem,” as oft-repeated in Dead Poets Society).”

“It sounds cliche, and I recognize that, but so many of our students are highly ambitious. So it’s important for them to hear that it’s OK to slow down,” she said. “Live in the present. Enjoy your college experience because it is fleeting.”

Read on to learn more about Marrero in this week’s 5 questions. 

1. What’s your favorite restaurant in Cleveland?

I live in Bath Township in Akron and don’t really have one favorite restaurant in Cleveland. But I do love the restaurant scene in CLE, and parts of the city remind me of Chicago. I consider myself a foodie and am quite adventurous about all things food. I love trying new restaurants and cuisines from diverse cultures.

2. If you could go back in time and give your college-aged self advice, what would you say?

Like many adolescents in their late teens and women in their early 20s, I would encourage myself to be more self-assured about who I was and what I wanted in life. In addition, I would spend less time “sweating the small stuff” as they say and investing any mental energy on items that don’t have significant meaning or impact on my life. Instead, I would spend more time trying to focus on the big picture. 

I would have also told myself to participate in a study abroad program and, in general, travel more!

3. What’s the best way to unwind after a long day?

Dinner with my family (my husband, Matt, is a great cook!), a glass of wine, and just spending time together. I am also a huge film buff and love just relaxing with my hubby and watching a favorite movie or show that we enjoy.

We’re a multicultural family with two kids—Gabriel, age 8, and Desmond, age 4—and life is always hectic, so it’s nice to just have chill time. 

4. Who has inspired you most in life?

My career advisor from my alma mater, Alan Farber, PhD, helped change the trajectory of my professional life to pursue a career in higher education through several inspirational conversations. I still remember him telling me to, essentially, “Get out of this place, don’t be afraid of change, and see the world”—among so many other pieces of sage guidance that really stayed with me over the years.

A while back, I connected with Dr. Farber on LinkedIn and let him know how much he influenced me and that I pursued a career path in higher education as he had. He responded by reinforcing how the type of work we do in higher education really matters and the fact that I reached out to him years later just shows the impact advisors can have on individuals.

He concluded by simply stating, “Hope you enjoy it as much as I have (and still do).” I am still connected with Dr. Farber, who has been in higher education for 30-plus years and continues to “help diverse clientele realize their professional dreams.”

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

It’s hard to name just one thing. I love the wealth of talented students at CWRU who are doing such amazing things in every direction I turn—whether they are pursuing pathways to to improve people’s lives, converting brilliant ideas into something tangible, or researching and contributing in ways to improve the world somehow, our students are often so impressive from such an early age.

My role at the institution is truly gratifying in that I get to work with these students from the beginning of their collegiate careers to the end—seeing them grow, mature, and eventually actualize their goals. I genuinely enjoy getting to know them on a deeper level, building meaningful relationships, and supporting their success at CWRU and beyond. In addition to the incredible students,

I have a community of colleagues here who I can call my “work family” and these amazing and student-centered staff and faculty also enhance what makes CWRU special.