The Importance of Having a Mentor
Aaron Krish

We look at our professors, faculty members, bosses, family and many other people, and we see those who could potentially teach us about life and what the future may bring.  How does this relationship start between teacher and pupil?  Along what lines are these relationships drawn? Should the student seek out the mentor, or is the student chosen?

By having a mentor, students could potentially gain more knowledge from their classes, get extra help when they need it—and really, sometimes, it never hurts to brown nose a little for a good letter of recommendation. 

Starting such a relationship, however, can be difficult at the beginning.  Many students are intimidated and unsure of how to approach a professor or faculty member for a normal conversation beyond class work or academics.  Kane Mach, a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point student, considers mathematical sciences professor Andy Felt his mentor. 

“I have had him for a few classes, and he willingly took me on as a research student over the summer. Over the course of those experiences, you start to get to know your professor on a more personal level,” Mach said.  “We have fun conversations about the future and about campus politics, and I’ve not only learned a lot about math but also about things that applied to my future career goals.”

While some students find mentors or role models in their professors, others find a mentor in a current job, student organization or family member.  May Roach Academic Resource Coordinator, Joe Zawacki, mentioned his current hall director as his mentor and why he thought such a relationship is important.

“I get advice on my job and on my professional development, such as how to find other jobs and how to be successful with resumes,” Zawacki said.  “It’s helpful to have someone you can go to with questions, and I’ve appreciated the constructive criticism I’ve received.  It’s really helped me reflect on where I’ve been and where I want to go.” 

The university also has a program through Residential Living that offers students a chance to connect and get to know various faculty members throughout the UWSP campus.  Each residence hall is paired with one, or sometimes multiple, faculty members who serve as that hall’s mentor.  There are currently 17 faculty members serving as mentors within the residence halls

Each serves in a different capacity and may be involved with a variety of programs put on by the hall’s staff or may even serve an office hour in the lobby to interact with students.  The idea is to promote connectedness between the student and the professor and break down the intimidating but unintentional barrier between student and professor.  Residential Living’s Program and Assessment Coordinator, Mary Duckworth, explains how faculty members are placed.

“Students benefit academically and get to know the professor in different capacities and get the chance to meet the faculty,” Duckworth said.  “The benefits are different with this kind of relationship, and it can bring useful connections to the student outside the university after graduation by networking and connecting with these professors.  So far, we’ve seen that students enjoy having them involved.” 

Interaction could be as simple as asking a question at the start of or end of class.  However basic the interaction is, it is a good start to let the professors know who you are.  Zawacki explained that office hours are an opportunity everyone should take advantage of, but it can still be hard to create a personal connection.

“I’ve had positive experiences every time I’ve gone to a professor with a question, but every time it was strictly about class,” Zawacki said.  “I would feel awkward veering into personal life or something that would be a mentoring situation.”

Connecting with faculty is a difficult task.  Students are often intimidated to approach professors and engage in conversations that are not about class.  However, professors and faculty do know how to talk about life outside of the classroom and are more than willing to talk about anything when a connection is made.

“It’s scary.  The more you get to know them, the easier it is to talk to them and the easier it is to get help, and they lead you down different paths,” Mach said.  “When you get to know someone, the situation becomes more humanized, and you can talk to them about other things besides their field.  They have a life outside of school.”