Universities promote a culture of research and investigation. You can learn much from classroom readings. However, I have found that life moves beyond words on a page. Life is about relationships: the ones you have with your peers in class or companions in clubs – and the ones that never leave you.
At the University of Michigan, you can meet thousands of people over the span of a month. You will pass by many without taking a second glance, while others will influence your decisions for a lifetime. At the Ross School of Business, there are opportunities to connect with the faculty who surround you. Not only are they invested in your education, but they strive to care about you too. However, building those relationships isn’t just their responsibility. You must put in the effort too.
Here at the University of Michigan, I have been blessed to have several mentors who’ve taken me under their wing in different capacities. Cheri Alexander, Andrea Clark, and Dwana Jones have all made an impact on my time here in Ann Arbor. Each has given me advice on life and career pursuits that have driven me into new spaces.
For example, when I was a freshman, Andrea Clark was only supposed to be my academic advisor, but she is the person who pushed me to remain a curious explorer of worlds. This led to my interest in Global Action courses, which took me to Santiago, Chile. Even though I no longer need to see her as often, I make sure that I schedule appointments to talk with her on a weekly basis because I value the advice she gives me.
At the same time, Dwana Jones has extended her professional network to me on multiple occasions. She has made sure that I was speaking to the right people. Even now, she continues to encourage me to discover which industries may pique my interest and with whom I should connect.
Professor Cheri Alexander is the epitome of a guiding faculty member. I was in her Managing Human Resources class, a lecture meant for seniors, as a sophomore. Back then, I would sometimes try to get the class to laugh so they’d have a moment to remember. Hearing Professor Alexander and the other seniors chuckle meant that I had accomplished what I had set out to do. Despite my comedy, Professor Alexander was someone I really looked up to as a professor. Soon enough, I went to her office hours and talked to her about my life and who I wanted to become. For both of us, it had always been about being curious and yet understanding that family is an important aspect of who we are. I learned about her husband who became an archaeologist and did excavations in Egypt. During our talks, I discovered how she valued people more than she valued their work. Throughout the rest of my years at Michigan, she has constantly followed up with me to ask how my goals have changed, who I wanted to be, and whether I am happy with who I am becoming. I will never lose contact with Professor Alexander and I look forward to hearing more about her curious adventures just as she hears about mine.
If you put in the work, you can create relationships like these that extend beyond the four white walls of a classroom to your career and life. To create these relationships, you simply have to take the right steps and be open to the idea of sustainable development.
First, you need to attend class.
I know it is college. Sometimes, you can get away with skimming the readings and watching the lectures online, but that is how you waste an education. By attending class, you are showing that you care about what that professor is teaching, which is often on a subject they have dedicated his or her life to pursuing. It’s about respect – and showing that you actually care enough to invest your time with them.
Second, you cannot be a passenger in the classroom.
You must show that you honestly want to learn about their discipline by being an active participant. That is not to say that you need to answer every question. However, attempt to add value when you speak by giving an opinion that isn’t just a regurgitated answer from the readings. Connect what you read to the real world; if you read about technology, leverage that knowledge to speak about autonomous vehicle advancements or the rise of social media within business. Never just speak for the sake of speaking, this results in lackluster responses. Only speak when you are genuinely interested or feel that you can add an original idea.
Finally, go to office hours.
Although the classroom is key to beginning a relationship, office hours are where you solidify whether you have enough of a connection with professors to start mentoring relationships. By speaking with them, you can hear about the journeys and adventures that they have embarked upon in their careers. You want to know who your professor is behind the scenes and what decisions they made which might connect to some aspects of your life. You can develop a strong rapport by talking about your goals in life and how their story connects to your own. Be yourself. If you pretend to be someone else, you will never develop an actual relationship. Instead, you will have developed a relationship between your professor and someone you pretended to be. Don’t forget to obtain contact information, a phone number, and a personal email; individuals move but the relationship you developed should extend beyond geography.
Overall, YOU ARE SPECIAL, someone will notice that. Just put yourself out there to be seen.
I’m Maximillian C. Garcia III, a young whippersnapper hailing from the small town of Rancho Cucamonga, California. I am majoring in Finance with a minor in Performance Arts Management at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. My goal in life is to continuously explore my curiosity of the unknown. Finally, I fence the Sabre Blade on the Michigan Fencing Club to keep myself strategically growing and living up to learning about the unknown!
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