The eyebrows of the students around the room rose when Cassandra Jackson, counselor coordinator for the Russell Conwell Center suggested, “Invite [your professor] over to lunch or coffee.”
Seeing the students’ reactions, Jackson said, “The more you meet with them, the more comfortable you will feel.”
The student-professor relationship, a subject on which Jackson holds a “Relating to Your Professor” workshop each fall, is a significant ingredient for college success that is sometimes overlooked or ignored by students.
“A lot of students don’t take advantage of professors the way they should,” said Orfeo Fioretos, a political science professor with nearly 10 years of teaching experience.
“Most office hours tend to be empty,” he said.
Fioretos said there are exceptions to the rule, though.
“Some students make it a point to come in and introduce themselves,” he said, “but they are relatively few.”
Students have a responsibility to make themselves known to professors as individuals, Fioretos said. He said students should enhance their communication by asking more broad questions instead of those that apply only to course material.
Jackson, who held her “Relating To Your Professor” workshop in room 203 of 1700 N. Broad St. Monday, said she also recognizes the value of professors’ office hours. She gave reasons for utilizing office hours during her workshop
“[Professors] want to answer questions for upcoming exams and even [give] clarification for your lecture notes,” she said, “and career advice – I think that’s essential.”
Chemistry professor John R. Williams, a teacher for 38 years, said he also sees the student-professor relationship as crucial.
“Ask questions,” Williams said. “Students who ask questions do well. They find out what they don’t know.”
Students who sit toward the front of the classroom tend to achieve better grades, Williams said
“In the [front] sections sat the ‘A’ and ‘B’ students, in the back of the class sat the ‘C’ and ‘D’ students,” he said, “There are some exceptions [but in general] the closer you are to me, the higher your grade.”
Jackson agreed that sitting in the front of the class can make all the difference with professors.
“Sit in the front, particularly if it’s a very large lecture,” she said. “That will help them to identify who you are.”
Though professors appear to encourage students to approach and interact with them, some students said they can come up with a myriad of reasons for their aversion to pursuing these relationships.
“I’m more of a quiet person, so I don’t usually interact with people like that,” said freshman nursing major Sabrina Hackett, “I have to get over the whole intimidation thing.”
Hilary Short, a junior sociology major, said she also feels uncomfortable interacting with professors at times.
“They always seem willing, but I feel like I’m taking up their time,” she said.
Office hours are good, she said, but “there are so many students. It’s always hard to [have] a personal relationship.”
On the other hand, many students said they have positive experiences with professors and are eager to give advice to their peers who may feel less enthusiastic about approaching them.
“They seem to care about students,” said junior political science major Patrick Degan, who recently transferred to Temple. “As far as I’ve been here . . . a couple of weeks, it seems pretty good.”
Degan recommends that his fellow students strive to understand professors better.
“I think the students should understand a little more that teachers are trying to help them out,” he said.
Seniors Andrew D’Achille, Jeff Heinbach and Brian Nguyen all share similar feelings toward their past connections with professors.
Although his experiences with professors have gone well, Nguyen, a biology major, said he “never really went to office hours.”
Similarly, D’Achille, a digital media art major, said he “can’t really say I’ve had any bad experiences,” despite seldom visiting professors during office hours.
Asked whether he takes advantage of office hours, Heinbach, a film and media arts and English double major, said, “I have occasionally.”
Heinbach said he could recall a specific positive experience.
“Sophomore year, I had a professor that was very involved with the class . . . He was very personable,” Heinbach said.
Whether they feel comfortable or awkward when seeking out professors, forging relationships with teachers is a task students must undertake at some point during their college careers, Jackson said.
“They can serve as a tutor, a mentor, a career advisor, [and eventually] as a friend,” Jackson said. “But that friend won’t come until you have developed relationships with them over time.”
Morgan Zalot can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.