Professors Lead Students to Post-Grad Success

Value-Of-MentorshipAs the saying goes, it’s not what you know, but who you know. But, according to a recent study, it might be how well your teachers know you, too.

A Gallup-Purdue Index report, released May 6, shows that college graduates who had a professor who “stimulated them, cared about them and encouraged their hopes and dreams” were twice as likely to engage in their work and were three times as likely to “thrive in their well-being.”

The study randomly polled about 30,000 people with a bachelor’s degree or higher. These graduates were asked if they had at least one professor in college who made them excited to learn, if they had professors who cared about them as a person and if they had a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams.

The study indicates that graduates were about twice as likely to engage in their work in their post-graduate life if they had a professor who cared about them as a person and were more than four times as likely to thrive in their well-being due to this engagement.

For psychology sophomore Kayla Deskins, her honors world religions professor, Ann Gleig, affected her work ethic in a more immediate way.

“This past semester was really difficult for me academically, because I had a lot of [personal] stuff going on. [Gleig] made a point of asking me why I missed class every time I was out sick and made sure to let me know when I was capable of putting more effort into my assignments,” Deskins said. “I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, but having a professor who took a personal interest in my success as a student really helped me succeed.”

The study had respondents answer whether or not they had worked on a semester-long project, had an internship that allowed them to apply what they learned in the classroom and if they were active in extracurricular activities. Graduates who experienced all three were nearly 2 1/2 times more likely to be committed to their work.

“The strong emphasis on undergraduate research [at UCF] is a testimony to how important we consider that opportunity to be,” said Ann Miller, a communication professor whose research focuses on instructional communication, in an email. “Students involved in undergraduate research projects often spend more than one semester working on projects with their professors or in a research lab. There’s probably a lot of overlap in the Gallup-Purdue study between students who reported that they had a faculty mentor and those who spent more than one semester on a project.”

Miller served in both roles as a faculty mentor and coordinator of research opportunities.

In cooperation with communication professor William Kinnally, Miller gave interpersonal communications senior Elizabeth Montano an opportunity to help conduct research on sexual content in media during the spring 2014 semester. Montano said that students in Kinnally’s class completed daily diaries on their media consumption for a week, and she was responsible for coding the diary entries for meaningful information.

“It’s hard to make a connection with someone of a higher status than you, like going to an adviser or going to a professor; they see so many people all the time so it’s like, ‘How do you get them to really know who you are?’” Montano said. “But this definitely gave me more of a sense [that] someone was caring about me and I was caring about a project, and it felt like I was in a little group with them.”

Miller said that it is important to remember the difference between causation and correlation. In this case, graduates might be succeeding for reasons beyond the strength of their mentor relationships.

“It could also mean that the students who are involved in lots of extracurricular activities have the kind of personality that will lead them to be more engaged and successful no matter what their college experience,” Miller said in an email.

The study should have more conclusive results in the near future, as it is set to continue for five years.

In the end the study will have surveyed about 150,000 graduates in total, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

To view the original article from the Central Florida Future, click here.

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