A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times Sunday Review section featured a piece titled, “What’s the Point of a Professor?”. The article generalizes college graduates as overly busy, distracted, and disconnected from academia, portraying us as too disinterested to create lasting relationships with our professors. The message was rather condescending because I’ve done nothing but seek out professors’ guidance through my four years of college, yet I realize the author has a point. Only a handful of my friends seem to really “get it”—the value of shifting the pupil-to-professor relationship to one of mentor and mentee—and while some of us have already graduated, I strongly recommend my college peers to seek out a mentor while they’re present on campus.
Since my freshman year of college, I’ve learned to work as hard as possible to stay on my professors’ good sides. This habit not only allowed me to better understand the materials in the classroom, it also helped me grow as a person. I learned that professors were once in our shoes, busily studying the subject they passionately teach today. Without realizing it I had already been testing out the mentorship waters through in-class dialogue, post-class conversations, office hour visits, etc. The next step in solidifying this scholarly relationship came through guidance in out-of-classroom decisions like picking a club/organization to join, determining the best sources for research projects, or deciding an internship to take on. This marks the subtle line between the classroom professor role and the life coach/advisor mentor role.
As some of my favorite professors willingly became my mentors, I became a much more confident student. College became more than just getting good grades and racking up leadership positions. Having the sound advice of a select few professors that I trusted well grounded me and kept me in check. Their many years of experience worked to highlight the best of my work and help me refine my abilities to produce even better work. Knowing me as more than just a face in one of their three or four classes also allowed them to learn my study habits. By the end of sophomore year, the professors I had grown close to knew me as a high achiever and though they couldn’t wave a magical wand to make my work or worries go away, they offered me their best advice on handling everything on my plate.
Mentors don’t grow on trees nor do they fall on your lap. I’ve emphasized professors because college provides a treasure trove of opportunities to grow close to its many wise and experienced academics. Upon graduating, our options slim down and may even be limited to professional services that match you with a mentor (not to say there’s anything wrong with that!). I fear that too many students view professors as mere people we need to deal with to obtain a degree—it’s time to change that mindset. Professors are willing to teach you the ins and outs of the subjects they love and the ropes of the industry they’ve watched evolve through the years they’ve taught. It’s never too early to seek them out because before you know it, you’ll be independently in the “real world”! Making these connections will positively reinforce your academic career and many years to follow.
Note: I’d like to give a special thanks to the professors who mentored me during my time at SUNY New Paltz: Joan Perisse (Freshman English Composition), who guided me back to my true love for writing in journalism with our class magazine; Lisa Phillips (Journalism I, major advisor), who taught me the foundational journo skills and kept it real to keep my word counts under 1000; Patricia Sullivan (Individual & Society, Honors advisor), who helped me string together all my academic and personal interests to better shape my career path; Sharina Maillo-Pozo (Latin American Literature, Dominican Identity), who taught me my Latino culture is extremely rich and worth using my journalistic skills to further shed light upon; other professors who also deeply inspired me to love learning.