Following calls for more meaningful connections with faculty, a new pilot program that launched Tuesday will pair up to 144 juniors and seniors with 24 faculty mentors of their choice this semester.
Columbia College Student Council and General Studies Student Council partnered with Dean of Faculty of Arts and Sciences David Madigan to create the program, which connects faculty mentors across disciplines with students who apply to work with them. The decision to launch this program has come in the wake of student complaints about the lack of student-faculty interaction at Columbia.
“I’m an international student, and sometimes I have a hard time connecting to professors,” said Raisa Flor, GS ’19, the vice president of policy for GSSC, who has been working on the program. “To have a formal channel to make that bridge just meant so much to me.”
The website opened on Tuesday, allowing students to scroll through a list of faculty available to be mentors, which include sociology professor Shamus Khan, English professor Eleanor Johnson, and anthropology professor John Pemberton. Students can select which mentor they’d like to work with, and each of the 24 faculty members are limited to mentoring six students at a time. If a student doesn’t get into the mentorship program with the faculty member of their choice, they can choose to either be on the waitlist or select another faculty member to be mentored by.
“There are lots of students that come from high schools or backgrounds that don’t make them feel as though they have the ability to [turn to faculty for advice], so a faculty responsive model is really good for those students,” said Nicole Allicock, CC ’18, the president of Columbia College Student Council, and the initiator of the pilot program.
Flor stressed the importance of the program for GS students specifically, in large part due to their nontraditional backgrounds.
“Especially for GS students, there might be some barriers to reaching out to faculty, because we have a greater amount of first generation or low income students than other schools,” Flor said. “We come from such different backgrounds that determining our career paths is not as easy, and having someone, a mentor, there to talk about it and guide us through this process is fundamental.”
The program will only be available to juniors and seniors due to the fact that an important stated goal of the program is to help students close to graduating with life and career advice.
The mentorship program gives no guidelines to the students and faculty planning to meet, aside from requiring faculty to reach out to their mentees in an email, leaving students and faculty free to schedule their own meetings, decide on their frequency, and also decide what topics of discussion should be covered at each meeting.
Faculty in the program cover the departments of anthropology, art history and archaeology, biological sciences, East Asian languages and cultures, English and comparative literature, French, German, history, Latin American and Iberian cultures, music, philosophy, physics, psychology, sociology, and statistics.
Faculty members who agreed to participate said that they were interested in helping undergraduates and also feel as though one-on-one student-faculty interaction is one of the best teaching methods .
“I decided to participate because I am very, very committed to undergraduate education,” English professor Eleanor Johnson said. “I thoroughly enjoy working with undergraduates, and I was honored to be asked.”
The distribution of faculty members favors the humanities and social sciences, with 20 of the 24 faculty mentors representing one of those departments. Allicock and Flor said that this was due to a number of factors, including which faculty members Madigan reached out to, as well as which faculty members agreed to participate in the program.
While Allicock stated that working out all the details of the new, developing program will be “logistically challenging,” she also stressed its importance.
“There has not previously, at least in my time, at Columbia been a structured avenue for you to meet professors outside of a class you’re taking or outside of your major,” Allicock said. “This is a new opportunity that has never been available before and that people are really excited about.”