Sonoma State students might need some clarification in two specific areas regarding the cultivation of relationships with faculty.
The first is that there is a difference between faculty, staff, lecturers and leadership positions within the university system, and these differences dictate the role each should play in a student’s education.
“It is helpful for students to understand the different categories of titles, positions, and employees so students can best understand where to seek support for their specific needs,” said Provost Lisa Vollendorf.
Noelle Dahl, student senator for Arts and Humanities, thinks it’s important for students to understand position and title when choosing a mentor. “I think it’s really important for students to know this because we need to know the credibility of our professors,” she said. “It’s very easy to be swayed by a professor’s opinions.”
Secondly, it’s important for each student to be proactive in cultivating relationships with faculty mentors and to secure letters of recommendation for ventures after graduation. “As early as possible students should identify and work with professors who will write these letters of recommendation, which will speak to the students’ engagement in class, critical thinking and writing ability, career aspirations and specific intellectual abilities,” said Hollis Robbins, dean of Arts and Humanities.
Some students have not received this information. Sophomore Dennae Taylor does not recall being told by the school about the importance of building relationships with faculty, the need for future recommendation letters, or about the different positions held. “I might have heard about it from an upperclassman,” she said.
Others, however, were given this information by advisors. Melissa Zaragoza, a first-generation college student, has received guidance from the EOP program. “EOP mentors told me that if I ever needed a letter of recommendation I could ask them. They told me it was important to build connections with mentors from the start.”
Isabel Dombrowski, a Kinesiology major, has been to two advisors, the first of which she did not find helpful. “I think in order for me to be helped I really have to go after it because no one comes up to me and asks me if I need help,” she said. “It’s all on me.”
Marco Calavita, a professor in the communications studies department, echoes Dombrowski’s sentiments about students needing to make the initial effort. “Talking to your professors outside of class about your interests, possible career path, and so on can be extremely helpful, and faculty are usually happy to do that,” he said. “But...students have to make the effort and show up. Instagram isn’t going to mentor anyone.”
Dahl receives mentorship, but said she doesn’t think other students are necessarily having the same experience. “Dean Robbins has been a very valuable person in my life and in my educational experience, but unfortunately not all students receive similar mentorship,” she said. She also thinks that students should be choosing mentors based on how their goals relate to professors’ accomplishments. “If a student’s aspiration in life is to be published and be a credible writer, if they don’t have mentors that possess that same skill, then how are they going to be on the road to get there?”
Dahl also wants more students to understand the importance of recommendation letters. “I think it’s really sad that a lot of students don’t even know about having recommendation letters. By the time they’re graduating they won’t have any due to people not talking about them,” she said. “Maybe advising in the career center could promote this more.”
Robbins, who regularly writes recommendation letters, sends out a standard email to students with a checklist of duties for students to get the best – or any – response. Robbins requests that students respond with information such as which of their qualities they hope to emphasize, which classes they took with her, the work they turned in to her along with her initial comments on it and reminders about deadlines.
“Students should understand as early as possible in their university career that letters of recommendation from faculty who know the student’s work and know the student intellectually are of extraordinary importance,” Robbins said.
According to Provost Lisa Vollendorf the following is a breakdown of positions held at Sonoma State University:
(Includes assistant professors, associate professors, and people at the rank of Professor—also called Full Professors). They are tenure-track faculty: after a certain number of successful years as assistants they attain tenure and rank of associate. They teach and do research, scholarship, and creative activity, advise students, and do service to the institution. They also serve as department chairs and as coordinators of programs or directors of centers. They have terminal degrees (usually doctorates) in their fields. They are hired as a result of national searches.
Faculty who often teach less than full time. They are not on the tenure track: they do not earn tenure. Some do research and some do service, including advising, but their primary role is to teach.
Staff advisors, staff who work in departments, staff who work in Seawolf services, in landscaping, janitorial services, etc.
Deans, associate vice presidents, vice presidents, and a President. These people are all managers and work to support the institution in their leadership roles.