Undergraduates Support Faculty Mentorship
of Every MIT Freshman
Intellectual life at MIT thrives on vibrant exchanges between students and faculty. We have all seen the results of successful student-faculty relationships, from spirited class discussions to productive research collaborations. Moreover, the relationship between a faculty advisor and an undergraduate advisee can teach students the value of seeking out good mentors throughout their lives. We are writing on behalf of the MIT Undergraduate Association to endorse CUP’s call in this Faculty Newsletter (Vol. XXV, No. 4) for every freshman to be mentored by a member of the faculty. We believe that these efforts will catalyze more meaningful engagement between undergraduates and the MIT Faculty.
Currently the freshman advising system caters to the immediate needs of freshmen when they arrive on campus, with, for example, appropriate focus on choosing classes in which to enroll. Here, MIT staff and students play an invaluable role in helping freshmen adjust to college life. Their guidance on “how to get around MIT” is important – but so is the unique perspective of faculty members on how to get involved with academic life at the Institute. This perspective can broaden a freshman’s intellectual horizons in ways that the perspective of other advisors – staff and students – cannot.
To be clear, the current system serves some students well. Some faculty already advise freshmen and do a wonderful job of it. Many students are capable of seeking out mentorship proactively, and others are highly independent and do fine without it.
Yet some students remain underserved by the current system. These students – many of whom spend their freshman year in lecture classes with hundreds of students – often find the faculty and their position of authority to be intimidating.
You know these students – or, rather, you don’t. They’re the ones who don’t come to your office hours and don’t raise their hands in class. As students ourselves, we can tell you that they’re not uninterested in classes or in forming relationships with faculty. Rather, they lack confidence – these same students have no difficulty approaching their peers with insightful questions. Pairing freshmen with faculty mentors will show these students the value and process of engaging with their professors and can help to humanize the faculty as well.
Faculty mentorship can transcend the purely administrative relationship that too many undergraduates associate with the word “advising.” Advising should be more than signing forms, ensuring progress through a degree checklist, or occasionally helping with class selection.
Indeed, students’ attitudes towards freshman and upperclassman advising are decidedly intertwined: many undergraduates have been conditioned by their freshman advising experience to think of subsequent advisors as functionaries rather than as mentors. Some of our fellow students see their departmental advisors no more than once per semester, and, even then, merely to obtain a (now digital) signature.
Faculty mentorship of all freshmen will teach students to value and cultivate relationships both with major advisors and with faculty in general. Such a mentorship system would also send a strong signal – to students, parents, and the world – that, even in the era of MOOCs, MIT cares deeply about the quality of the residential educational experience that it offers to undergraduates.
On behalf of the MIT Undergraduate Association, we endorse the proposed resolution on freshman advising and urge you to do the same. After all, we were all college freshmen once.
?Naren Tallapragada is a Senior and Chair of the Undergraduate Association (UA) Committee on Education; Ravi Charan is a Junior and the UA Chief of Staff ;
Jonté Craighead is a Senior and the UA President .