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Adam Duberstein, Ohio Dominican University

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"Have you talked with your professor yet?" is a favorite question academic advisors ask their students. More often than not, students tell their advisors that they have not engaged their teachers in meaningful conversations outside the classroom. Research (Campbell & Campbell, 1997; Kuh & Hu, 1991) shows that student-faculty relationships are the most crucial connection within a collegiate community. Like any relationship, those between faculty members and students require nurturing. Advisors who know their students' talents and understand their faculty colleagues' gifts for helping the student grow occupy an unique position where they can facilitate strong relationships between advisees and their professors.

When advisors help facilitate conversations between students and faculty members, they help the institution as a whole. When students feel connected to the campus community, they are more often retained and excel academically, creating a winning situation for everyone. Nagda, Gregerman, Jonides, von Hippel, and Lerner (1998) point out that: "Lack of integration, or isolation of the student within the institution, has been identified as an important factor in contributing to student departure. The effects of weak...student-with-faculty contact [has] been cited repeatedly as a [cause] of student withdrawal from college"(p. 57).

A sense of connection with teachers helps students feel like they belong at the institution. Advisors can aid in building this connection by helping students understand that they should get to know their professors, if only so that faculty can teach them better. Faculty members who understand the learning needs and interests of their students can appropriately tailor assignments, expectations, and conversations.

Advisors who work with distance-learners can help their advisees build relationships with faculty, even if those relationships must take place over a physical distance. Morris and Finneagan (2008) report that: "[a] faculty presence online and faculty participation [are] important to online students" (p. 60). Regardless of the environment in which learning takes place, students feel more satisfied when faculty members function as an active part of their lives (Morris & Finnegan, 2008; Nagda, et al, 1998).

Advisors can facilitate conversations between students and faculty members by reminding students that their teachers were once students themselves. Encouraging students to share their concerns with faculty members can give students a different 'take' on a problem. For example, because faculty must balance teaching, research, service, and busy personal lives, they are well-equipped to work with students on time management issues. Faculty also can suggest a host of effective study strategies ranging from note-taking skills to the best ways to critically read a particular text. Often students do not take advantage of faculty knowledge of study skills, even though faculty have studied long hours in their fields in order to get the positions they currently hold.

Not only should students be encouraged to ask faculty for general scholastic advice, but they also should learn how faculty became invested in their particular areas of expertise. Such conversations are helpful for students searching for their academic passions. These conversations can also be helpful to students who believe they have solidified their academic interests, as role modeling, references, and research opportunities can arise from these relationships. Kuh and Hu (1991) tell us that "student-faculty interaction encourages students to devote greater effort to other educationally purposeful activities during college"(p. 329). Through these educational conversations, faculty can challenge students to excel academically and help students reach their potentials.

Advisors can help these conversations occur not only by pointing out their tangible benefits, but also by explaining that most faculty members enjoy working one-on-one with students. Parr and Valerius (1991) noted that faculty found student office visits among the most positive student behaviors. This finding underscores that faculty want to get to know their students. Schreiber (2004), himself a professor, says, "Most...faculty members actually like talking with students – that's why we became professors – and will happily do so when the opportunity comes up.” Therefore, students should be proactive in approaching faculty. Advisors can remind students who feel negatively towards interacting with a particular teacher that people behave differently in groups than in one-on-one situations. A clear explanation that relationships start as one-on-one efforts can help students see that faculty are approachable and often are willing mentors in the learning process.

Advisors should tell students that the most fruitful conversations with faculty center on learning, rather than grades. To build a good relationship with a faculty member, a student should demonstrate that learning, rather than arguing for a better grade, is central to the discussion. In addition, students who have educational conversations with faculty tend to reap the most benefit from the interaction. Kuh and Hu (1991) explain that 'both the frequency and the nature of student-faculty interaction combined have the greatest impact, such as when interactions have an intellectual or substantive focus' (p. 310). When they help their students ask faculty well crafted questions, advisors can help faculty and students connect.

Good faculty-student relationships begin with conversations. There are several conversation starters that advisors can use in order to ease the student into making a connection with faculty members. Students who ask faculty such open-ended questions as: "How did you choose your undergraduate major?" or "What study methods should I use for this class in order to learn the most from it?" set the tone for productive educational relationships. Campbell and Campbell (1997) noted that students who receive faculty mentoring have higher grades.

Advisors better prepare students for the workforce when they encourage their advisees to see their professors as supervisors who evaluate their work rather than someone responsible for student performance on assignments. All workers need to converse with supervisors; thus students who learn to effectively converse with their educational supervisors will do better in the workplace. Thus, students who hone their professional communication skills in a learning environment learn skills they need to succeed in their careers.

Advisors can help students and faculty invest in each other for both student and institutional success. Faculty members want to teach. Academic advisors can help students learn strategies to better access faculty knowledge.

Adam Duberstein
Academic Advisor
Ohio Dominican University
dubersta@ohiodominican.edu

Discussion Question Guide

  • How can advisors help students have educationally purposeful conversations with faculty?
  • What can an advisor do to encourage students to get to know their professors?
  • How can advisors help students prepare for interactions with faculty?
  • How can advisors challenge students’ assumptions of faculty roles?
  • How can advisors support successful conversations between students and faculty members?

Find the Reference List and an Annotated Bibliography of resources dealing with this topic in the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources

Cite this article using APA style as: Duberstein, A. (2009, March). Building student-faculty relationships. Academic Advising Today, 32(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]
Posted in: 2009 March 32:1

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