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It was the first day of class in my sophomore year.
I was spending the semester abroad at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, Australia. The campus was gigantic; it was home to a dentist’s office, more than 40 restaurants, and almost 60,000 students.
It took a full 20 minutes to navigate the sprawling campus from my apartment building to the lecture hall, but even this journey wasn’t enough to prepare me for what I was about to walk in to.
The classroom was massive, several times the size of Arcadia’s Stiteler Auditorium. Even though I’d arrived a few minutes early, there were already hundreds—literally, hundreds—of students milling about. The lecturer entered soon after and introduced himself abruptly, following with this jarring instruction: “I don’t care what your names are. I’m not going to try to learn them. If you have a question about the class, don’t ask me. Email your teaching aid first, they’ll contact me if they need to.”
If I was studying at Penn State or Rutgers, maybe this detached greeting wouldn’t have shocked me so much. But here at Arcadia, we’re privileged to have a far more personal relationship with our professors. The cozy class size is one of the main reasons that I, like many students, chose Arcadia in the first place.
My semester in Australia reminded me just how right that choice was. When I returned in the spring of my sophomore year, it was such a relief to feel like an actual human being in class again, not just another filled seat in a lecture hall. Not only that, but most Arcadia professors have a friendly smile and greeting to offer outside of the classroom.
Over the course of my freshman year, I’d taken my professors for granted. But the transition from UNSW made me realize just how valuable these relationships could be. I vowed to take advantage of Arcadia’s incredible faculty while I still could, and the impacts on my remaining college career have been astounding.
When I returned the spring of my sophomore year, I began working on my Honors Project, and was lucky enough to be paired with Linda Ruth Paskell for my mentor. To this day, I can’t pass her on campus without a hug and a five-minute chat, and we even meet up for lunch or coffee on occasion. She always has sage, soothing advice to offer. Linda reminds me of the importance of self-care and the many blessings in my life even when I’m at my most frazzled.
My academic advisor and thesis professor, Alan Powell, has been especially impactful (check out my last Humans of Arcadia post to learn more about his work). Once I began putting more effort into my professor-student relationships, he immediately took me under his wing. He’s helped me develop as an artist and an adult, always treating me as an equal. One day last semester, I walked into his office and essentially had an existential crisis. My internship had turned out to be less than I dreamed it would be, and I was certain I’d never find a career that would make me happy. Within two weeks, Alan had secured a paid internship for me with a video art collective, of which he was also a member. Now, I’m privileged not only to know him as a professor and mentor, but also a colleague.
Without these professors, and many others, I would never have become the student, professional, and human that I am today. On Arcadia’s cozy campus, it’s easy to forget just how lucky we are to have faculty who know and care about us as individuals. The next time you walk into that 15-student class, don’t forget just how important your professors can be.