When students enter the Department of Mechanical Engineering, they are assigned a faculty advisor. The principal role of the faculty advisor is to help individual students plan their academic programs in ways that are consistent with their career objectives. In this capacity, the faculty advisor also serves as advocate for the student in the Department.
At the end of each academic term, the department’s faculty meet as a body to review the academic progress of all MechE students. At these meetings, the faculty make decisions concerning the future enrollment status of individual students based upon their academic performance in both that term and previous terms. In the case of poor performance, these decisions are subsequently reviewed for consistency by a standing committee of the Institute, the Committee on Academic Performance (CAP). This is the process by which MIT assures the outside world that its "products"—graduating students—satisfy some minimum set of standards.
Speaking on behalf of individual students, the faculty advisor has an important and respected voice in this process, but obviously the potential influence of the faculty advisor is limited by the extent of his or her knowledge of the situation at hand. Thus, it is essential that the individual student maintain close contact with his or her faculty advisor so that the faculty advisor may be aware of all factors affecting the student's academic performance. It is the responsibility of the student to insure that the faculty advisor is kept fully informed in any given situation. If you have problems that affect your academic performance, contact your advisor—whether the situation is illness, a family problem, or simply being overwhelmed.
In addition to serving as the student's advocate, the faculty advisor can assist the student in other ways. Most faculty maintain close contact with industry so they can often help students in their searches for summer jobs or career placement. For students who wish to continue their studies at the graduate level, the faculty advisor may be a good resource regarding the opportunities for graduate study at other institutions. At the very least, the faculty advisor is usually the faculty member who knows the student best and, therefore, can provide appropriate letters of reference to potential employers or potential graduate and professional schools. In any case, it is left to the initiative of the student to take advantage of the resources embodied in the faculty advisor.