By Adela Penagos, PhD, President
The semester is underway and faculty across campuses have settled into their office hours. However, as I walk the hallways of the institutions I tour, or sit in my own office during office hours, I cannot help by wonder, why is this one of the most undervalued resource in college life? When I talk to alumni across the nation they all agree that they wish someone would had mentioned the importance of getting to know their professors, so how can you take advantage of your MVPs: Most Valued Professors?
1. Visit Them During Office Hours.
While most faculty have to hold office hours as part of their teaching commitment, we hope our students will come to see us at least twice a semester. This allow us to get to know our students better and help us address any of the class material that was not clearly understood. It is important for you to think of some specific questions to get the conversation going, but after the ice-beaker, feel free to ask questions related to upcoming assignments, to seek feedback in any area you are struggling, or simply get to know your Professor. It is important to keep in mind that we do not want to feed you answers as if you were conducting a “Google search.” Our goal is to enable you to develop critical thinking skills and strengthen your problem-solving abilities. Thus, do not expect us to give you all the answers without engaging in deductive reasoning during the conversation.
2. Learn From Them.
To be able to teach at the college level, we had to attend college at some point –even if in your eyes it might seem that this was in a very distant past. Thus, we have walked in your shoes before. We had to learn how to manage our time, we had to approach our Professors, had to juggle commitments inside and outside the classroom. Some of us even attended college in a different country. Hence, do not hesitate to ask for advice as to how to do college; we want you to thrive and if we have a relationship with you will share with you our accomplishments and some of the areas in which we struggled during our college experience.
3. Ask Them For Help.
While some faculty might be teaching as a means to do research, most of us want to see our students achieve their goals. Granted, because of experience, we are probably more aware that not all objectives can be achieved at the same time. Yet, we are thrilled to support you in your journey when we can. For example, if a student only comes to see me when he or she need a letter of recommendation, but has not taken to allow me to get to know him or her outside of class, I might agree to write the recommendation –if the student is certain that I am the only option. Nonetheless, the readers are going to be able to read between the lines and conclude that I do not know the student well. Thus, do not wait until you are in dire need of help to get to know your faculty or ask for help. Invest time in developing the relationship with your faculty and receiving assistance from them will be easy.
4. Communicate With Them.
I enjoy supporting students in pursuing their dreams and have been fortunate to see many of them obtain Fulbright Scholarships, publish books in renown presses, become successful entrepreneurs, lawyers, teachers, and doctors. However, I am surprised by how few of them have taken the time to update me on their whereabouts. More importantly, I am also surprised by how my current students wait for me to reach out to them when they are facing a difficult situation. Some of my friends tend to blame this behavior in the millennial entitlement attitude. I think it has much more to do with our human tendency of avoidance. Regardless of the reason, if I do not know what is going on, I cannot be understanding and accommodating. My biggest piece of advice here is that you are transparent with your Professor. The truth always comes out and we do not appreciate when someone is trying to pull the wool in front of our eyes. Several weeks ago, one of my top students did not show up for class. This did not bother me because I understand that sometimes, students need to miss class –my Department allows 3 absences per semester. The student emailed me to tell me she was sick, though her closest friend told me she had been unable to get back to campus on time. When the student found out I knew what had happened, she apologized, but still made up an excuse for not being candid. I took this opportunity as a teaching moment and reminded that not being forthcoming in any of our relationships can hinder our communication and interactions.
5. Remember They Are Human.
We are just as busy as you are with our own lives; we have some days that are better than others; and when our families are facing difficulties, such challenges affect us as well. Last week, a second earthquake, in a 10-day span, hit Mexico, my home country. My students know I am from Mexico and my family lives there, yet to this day they have not asked if my family is doing well. I am not sure if they are unable to relate to tragedy or they just want to pretend that everything is fine because we have not taught them how to deal with life when things are imperfect.
As you probably already know, human beings thrive in relationships. Your relationships with your MVPs will be an asset to your college experience and life after college. We can help you understand the class material better; find research and other opportunities to maximize your potential in college and thereafter; recommend you for internships, graduate and professional school, and full employment; and connect you with our previous students. However, we do need a bit of notice to accommodate your needs and meetings outside our office hours. We are eager to help—all you need to do is ask—, but do not forget that we also have lives.