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Study confirms value of student-faculty bonds

PSU faculty say they aren't surprised by research that shows relationships between students and faculty are perhaps the biggest factor for successful graduates.

In a recent study, researchers with the Gallup-Purdue Index Report concluded that attending a prestigious, highly ranked college gave students no advantage over those who chose a mid-tier public university when it came to broad, important factors of life.

The study surveyed 30,000 graduates about employment, job engagement and their overall well-being. The results were clear: caring, engaged faculty made the difference.

Graduates who reported having professors who stimulated them, showed they cared about them as individuals and encouraged them to fulfill their hopes and dreams were three times as likely to be thriving.

To which, a number of Pittsburg State University professors responded, “Of course!”

Several former recipients of PSU’s Outstanding Faculty Award, an annual honor bestowed by students, said the study’s findings shouldn’t be surprising, although they said it validated what they all knew from their own experience.

“I'm not surprised by the research, and yes, it confirms my experience,” said Cythia Huffman, a University Professor in the Department of Mathematics.

Several faculty members pointed out that engaging with students means making a connection that goes beyond covering just the coursework.

“I have certainly seen considerable growth in my students who responded to my offers of help or just listening to their stories,” said Tysha Potter, an instructor in the Department of Psychology and Counseling. “Students thrive on feeling welcome, cared about, and seen as an individual person rather than just another student in class.”

Mark Peterson, assistant professor in the Department of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences, said the survey results “suggest that the importance of teachers is not restricted to course material, it also includes values and approaches to life that may be conveyed to students beyond course material.”

Troy Comeau, associate professor in the Department of Communication and the father of a 17-year-old son, said young students often need guidance in understanding what being an adult means.

“I try to let my students know that success takes time and patience,” Comeau said. “You are not going to get it over night, but if you set a path towards success...the hard work will pay off. I've seen it happen many, many times.”

Most of the professors said their own undergraduate experiences had helped shape their relationships with students.

“I had a wonderful mentor as a postdoctoral trainee who genuinely cared for all who worked in his laboratory,” said Virginia Rider, a University Professor in the Department of Biology. “His mentoring skills kept me in science. I know how important it is as a student to receive mentoring from someone you respect. I always try to pay it forward.”

A new crop of PSU grads is about ready to leave the university, following commencement Friday and Saturday, but the professors said the connections they have made will continue well into the future.

“While this connection may begin in the classroom, it often continues well beyond graduation,” said Janice Jewett, an associate professor in the Department of Health, Human Performance and Recreation.

“I'm currently receiving emails from new grads as well as old ones looking for job and career advice, looking for help with CVs and resumes, and otherwise looking for some advice on where they should head next,” said Dan Zurek, a professor in the Department of Biology.

That communication, sometimes months or years after the student has left campus, is welcome, all agreed.

“I love hearing about their successes and the exciting things they are doing,” Huffman said.

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