Getting to know your professor beyond the lecture hall

How professors at the University go the extra mile to form personal relationships with their students

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The University is truly unique in the way it supports strong relationships between students and professors both inside and outside of the classroom. When I was an incoming first-year, I remember feeling intimidated by the advice to “make personal connections with your professors,” as I figured my college experience would be a series of big lecture halls with scary, unapproachable professors teaching from behind podiums. 

Immediately, I found my experience to be quite the opposite — not only were many of my classes much smaller than I expected, but the professors all made an effort to emphasize how welcome and encouraged we were to reach out to them for help or advice. Throughout my two years at the University, I’ve been impressed by the effort professors put into going the extra mile to get to know their students, and I believe this is one of the reasons that the undergraduate experience at the University is so fulfilling.

One of the first experiences I had that remains a true testament to the faculty’s willingness to get to know their students outside of the classroom was at an event through my sorority called “Professor Dessert.” We were instructed to send out an email to one of our professors inviting him or her to join us for dessert at our house on a specific weeknight. The goal of the event was to extend conversations with professors beyond the classroom and to foster better relationships between the University's Greek and academic communities. 

At first I was a bit skeptical — would any of my professors want to come? I promptly logged onto Collab, pulled up my semester schedule and evaluated my options. I ended up selecting my Spanish 1020 professor — a young, peppy woman from Valencia who was both the most challenging and most effective Spanish teacher I’d ever had. Since there was no English allowed in our classroom, I was excited to get to know her in a language that I could confidently form complex sentences in, and I was also curious about the summer study abroad program in Valencia. She responded to my email immediately, expressing how excited she was to hang out with me and experience Greek life, as they had no such thing in Spain.

On the evening of the event, I awaited her arrival on our front porch. The house was decorated beautifully with string lights and candles, and tables of delicate little cheesecakes, cookies, brownies, coffee and lemonade lined the walls. Just as the clock struck 6:30 p.m., professors began pouring into the house. I watched as an Uber pulled up to the curb, and out stepped my professor — dressed in a bright pink suit and heels with her blonde hair in curls. She excitedly scurried to the porch and embraced me, exclaiming in her thick, Spanish accent, “Ah! A real sorority! I’ve always wanted to be in a sorority! Can I have a tour?” I giggled to myself because she definitely looked the part, and when I sent my mom the picture we took later that night, she asked, “Which of your sorority sisters is that?”

The house was packed. It felt like one of our mixers with a fraternity — except it was with faculty. I met so many professors that night who were genuinely excited to meet their students’ friends and talk about life; my professor was also thrilled to get to know other professors outside of the Spanish department.

We sat and talked for a long time about Valencia — she went on and on about the shopping, the food and the “discotecas,” the night clubs there. She helped me plan a packing list for my summer study abroad program and gave me tips about how to best fit into the culture — nifty things like you don’t tip at restaurants and it’s incredibly rude to ask for a split check. 

At the end of the event, none of the professors wanted to leave. I had the best time with her that night. She gave me her phone number, as she was going home for the summer. She even met up with my friends and me in Valencia to tour us around and help plan itineraries for our weekend travels. 

Along with this event, there are many other ways I’ve experienced professors going out of their ways to get to know their students. The list is endless. In my first year, my COLA professor took a few of us out to lunch at the faculty dining room in Hotel E to discuss our goals for our four years at the University. He also offered to host a Christmas cookie baking party at his house for our class at the end of the semester to celebrate our time together. 

In my second year, a course I took had a special stipend for our professor to organize faculty dinners with accomplished writers, and another professor of mine threw a pizza party to celebrate the submissions of our portfolios. 

My professors have also been very generous with meeting times outside of their office hours. Last semester, a media studies professor of mine reached out at the conclusion of his course to discuss my career aspirations, and now I turn to him for advice and mentoring whenever I need guidance in my field. Just the other day, he gave me the 50 minutes of his canceled class time to give me encouragement in the internship search process.

The type of environment that the University provides for forming positive relationships between students and faculty is absolutely outstanding. I believe it started with Thomas Jefferson’s vision for the Lawn to be a place where students and professors live and study together, and even though the Pavilions can no longer house all the faculty at the University, the spirit of his vision is still upheld by the warm and welcoming dispositions of professors here today. Forming such strong relationships with my professors and taking advantage of the opportunities that the University provides to get to know them has enriched my time here greatly. 

I encourage you to also go the extra mile to get to know your professors — you might begin with the “Take Your Professor out to Lunch” program sponsored by the College Council, through which you can take your professor to eat anywhere on Grounds for free. Take the time to get to know them, because they want to get to know you. 

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