How to build relationships with your professors in your first year of college

X-SIG students conducting research with professor Tim Good
Students research with Physics Prof. Tim Good as part of the Cross-Disciplinary Science Institute (X-SIG) in 2019.

Coming from a small English school in the middle of Madagascar, I grew up in an educational community where I made meaningful personal relationships with my teachers and fellow students. In choosing to attend Gettysburg College, I felt that it would be the right place where I could form close connections with my professors through its personal classroom experience. Professors who play an integral role in my education will ultimately guide me closer to my goals.

Get to know your First-Year Advisor

During the fall semester, all first-year students are assigned an academic advisor. A first-year advisor is a faculty member paired with an incoming student based on information they have shared about themselves and the kind of classes they decide to take that semester.

My first-year advisor was Prof. Sunghee Sunny Kim from the computer science department, as I intended to major in computer science. Kim also became one of my instructors during my first year for my computer science introductory class. Having her as a professor and advisor meant that I would meet her several times a week, either during classes, office hours, or individually scheduled meetings. Despite the year being altered by the COVID-19 pandemic, I found it easy to reach out to her and connect. Beyond advising me on the classes I should take and other parts of academic life, she became someone I could talk to about anything.

Learn from your professors

Andry Rakotonjanabelo sitting on a bench
Andry Rakotonjanabelo ’24

As I started to attend my classes, I realized that the professors would be academically demanding regarding class material. Of course, each professor had their expectations, but one thing they all expected from us was to be engaged and participate. Things started slowly during the first few weeks of classes, but the workload soon amped up. The first semester was the hardest to adjust to academically, as all first-year students adapt to college life and their course loads. I remember talking to Psychology Prof. Brian Meier, who taught my “Introduction to Psychology” course, about a lot of work that came up in the opening weeks. I will never forget him smiling back at me, saying, “Welcome to college!”

While my professors set high standards for their students, they made it clear that they were ready to collaborate with us and help us succeed. Gettysburg College professors encourage their students to learn to embrace the process. In addition to the class material, they are always open to talking about related topics that sparked intellectual curiosity. Such discussions always motivated me to look forward to the next class.

Bob Iuliano at a CAFE Symposium looking at a student poster
First-year students present their research to President Bob Iuliano at CAFÉ Symposium on Feb. 5, 2020.

Pursue collaborative research

One of my classes that I enjoyed was “Introduction to Statistics in Psychology,” taught by Psychology Prof. Daniel McCall. It was fundamentally a math class, but the concepts were delivered in a way that it did not feel like one. Instead, every number, formula, and step contextualized a topic within psychology.

The best part of that class was the final project, which involved designing a research experiment that investigated the influence of facial appearances on trustworthiness. Since we could not bring people into the labs due to the pandemic, it was designed specifically for our subjects to complete the experiment at home. Although our results weren’t as expected, it allowed us to practice the research designs and statistical concepts we learned.

At the end of the spring, McCall said he would have a couple of open positions for research assistants in his lab the following semester. As a passionate learner and psychology enthusiast, I was delighted to engage with in-class research experience in my first year that I wanted to continue that research. Upon expressing my interest in the position, I was selected to be one of his research assistants this fall, and together, we will be studying the influence of odors on our visual perception of foods.

Looking back on my first year, I am beyond grateful for how Gettysburg’s outstanding faculty is accessible and open to every student willing to reach out. I formed close bonds with my professors and remain greatly impressed by the outstanding progress I have made thanks to their help. Forming relationships with professors and pursuing research opportunities are significant parts of what makes an exceptional Gettysburg College experience.

Learn more about student-faculty research and creative pursuits inside and outside of the classroom.

By Andry Rakotonjanabelo ’24, computer science major
Photos by Shawna Sherrell and courtesy of Andry Rakotonjanabelo ’24
Posted: 07/19/21