Partners with the Professor
(Continued from 1)
Also fortunate to find a mentor was Donnell Butler.
Donnell, a student at Franklin, says sociology professor
Katherine McClelland "gave
me a great chance to explore my ideas without feeling
intimidated. That's a good feeling, when somebody makes
you feel like you're a partner. You work harder because
you want to be worthy of that respect." The two worked
as a team on research, and during McClelland's first-year
seminar, Butler also taught with her. "(Sociology) spoke
to him in the same way it spoke to me," said McCleeland.
Such relationships can be a turning point in a student's
life. Hood College biology professor Drew
Ferrier said it happened to him. "You can learn
about biology or biologists by sitting in a classroom,
but when you're mentored by a professor you become a
biologist," he said. "You're no longer sitting on the
sidelines, but are a participant. These are watershed
experiences that can literally be what makes you decide
what you want to do."
Ferrier said he was involved in a three week program
where he was guided by a professor in Florida. "I left
as a biology student," he said, "but I came back an
environmental biologist." Ferrier said he "lived it
and loved it." Immersion, he believes, is something
that really does cause a change in you. "You have to
make students a participant," he said, "and that's what
an interactive relationship with a professor can do
At Randolph Macon's Women's College, the emphasis is
on teaching, not publishing or research. Kristi Kneas,
a 1995 graduate, worked with Professor of Chemistry
Mattson to do research on improving measurements
in chemical analysis. Both Kneas and Mattson presented
papers at the 207th American Chemical Society National
Meeting in San Diego, California, a rare opportunity
for an undergraduate. Randolph professors also provide
unique opportunities abroad. Recent overseas experiences
include an archaeological dig in Carthage, Tunisia,
a course on rain forest ecology in Costa Rica, and a
political science "outing" to South Africa.
There are many more such instances. A senior and professor
of behavioral psychology at Wheaton College, Masachusetts
work together to complete a unique study about how children
learn music. A history professor with a law degree at
Birmingham Southern College helps his students get internships
in law firms. Such stories are inspirational. But in
today's busy lifestyle, how does one go about getting
to know their professors?
Academic and Professional Assistance
Many universities are large, with classes taught by
assistants, and the climate can be impersonal. For this
reason, it is best to find a school that has a faculty:student
ratio that ensures classes are small and students get
personal attention. Some universities place teaching
excellence above everything, and make every effort to
help students understand that their relations with faculty
are as important is what they are learning in the classroom.
Working with the professor is considered part of the
total student experience. Look for a university that
puts emphasis on collaborative research projects involving
students and faculty. Check college rankings that indicate
the importance faculty place on interactions with students.
It is not uncommon for classroom conversations to spill
over to lunch and dinner conversations with faculty
More importantly, professors make
themselves available for academic and professional
help which often translates into internships, career
direction, jobs and graduate school acceptances. If
you are having difficulty with a subject, ask for one-on-one
help. Visits to faculty members during office hours
can provide a more leisurely means of mastering the
material. Use out of classroom visits to explore dimensions
of a topic not covered in class. It can be an exciting
and enjoyable experience to debate or discuss issues
with a professor, a way of stretching your mind and
moving to a higher stage of learning, to find out about
what else exists on the subject.
If unsure about approaching a professor, it's important
to remember that many have become professors because
they love to teach and love their discipline deeply,
and there's nothing that makes them happier than to
learn that one of their students shares their passion.
Student-faculty interactions not only benefit both students
and faculty members, but create opportunities beyond
the classroom that can result in career opportunities
and lifetime friendships.
Faculty are there to share their expertise and love
of a particular discipline and to show the connections
between those disciplines and life. Students experience
intellectual growth, become more oriented towards a
scholarly career and develop higher aspirations. Student-faculty
interaction has also been shown to have positive correlations
with every area of academic attainment outcome: college
GPA, degree attainment, graduating with honors, and
enrollment in graduate or professional school. One woman,
under the influence of her professor, had the courage
to choose a male dominated career.
Professors are also part of the reason alumni remember
their college days so fondly. For many, the relationship
doesn't end at commencement. The person who was a professor
has become a friend - sometimes for life. Students who
don't take advantage of that opportunity miss much of
what a college education is all about.
|Benefits of Working with a Professor
| - It helps keep students in a degree
program to completion. If they make a connection
with faculty who care and are interested in them,
they are more likely to remain.
| - It increases academic performance.
Students who know their professors are more likely
to seek assistance and tend to perform better in
|- Students receive job placement assistance
when they graduate. Additionally, students
gain invaluable professional references and networking
opportunities, and learn about internships, cooperative
learning, and research appointments, which give
them an edge on graduate school applications and
| - Students may receive career advice.
Some students are not sure of what they want to
major in during their first years of college. Professors
can provide insight.
| - Students can receive coursework guidance.
Faculty can advise students on which courses to
take, when to take them, and suggest the right course
|- Students find help with portfolio preparation.
Some schools are requiring the submission of portfolios
or projects before graduation. Often, professors
can provide insight and guidance.
|- Students can often become involved in
the research of faculty. This gives them
a better understanding of the discipline, often
leads to co-authorship (a plus on a resume and graduate
application), and helps to define career interests.
They also often have an opportunity to present their
research at conferences, regional, national and
|- The professor who knows a student well
can write better and more persuasive letters of
|- Finally, faculty can be instrumental
in helping students identify opportunities they
might otherwise miss. One student was able
to get a research appointment with funding at the
University of Missouri and at Fermi National Energy
Laboratory in Chicago because of faculty who knew
her, her strengths and interests, and had contacts
that let him know about these opportunities.