Student-faculty interaction key to improving quality of education

Since my arrival at Tech last Sept., I have met, formally and informally, with a lot of students. I have been very impressed. The leadership is outstanding. Students participating in activities such as the Honors Program and the President’s Scholarship Program are especially committed to learning and pursuing the very best education possible.

Feedback from talking with many students during my regular open lunch periods, as well as data from formal surveys, indicate that a large majority of undergraduate students are very satisfied with the education and student experience offered at Tech. Nevertheless, a significant minority is not as happy, mainly due to the perception that access to the faculty and appropriate mentoring from faculty and senior staff members is not the reality for those students. That a significant minority is not fully satisfied is a problem that we must tackle, together.

By the time every student graduates from Tech, at least two or three faculty members, researchers or academic staff members should know him or her sufficiently well so that they would feel comfortable writing an informed and personal recommendation letter to a graduate school or a potential employer. To achieve that goal, we must certainly strengthen the classroom and extra-curricular interactions. The easiest way, though, to create the environment for routine student/faculty interaction is to improve the mentoring and advising. At the very least, all first-year students, and the overwhelming majority of higher division students, should have regular, formal access to a faculty member and/or senior academic staff person for academic mentoring. We have the instruments already to formalize and implement a series of pilot programs or experiments.

For example, the GT1000 series already touches some 70 percent of freshmen and 54 percent of upperclassmen. Other opportunities for increased interaction with faculty include the Honors Program the President’s Scholarship Program, seminars, undergraduate research and the ThinkBig Living Learning Communities. One could think about adding a “faculty mentor program” where a couple of handfuls of first-year students could be associated with and advised by a faculty member, research scientist or senior staff member. Other possibilities are a residential advising program with faculty and their families residing in dormitories.

Students and their education are at the top of our agenda. I have noted that the five goals of our visionary strategic plan can be translated into seven simple ideas: students, students, students, entrepreneurship, innovation, globalization and being lean and mean. We are developing short- and medium-term implementation plans for ideas addressing these goals. Ideas and activities are varied. Imminent is the Fall opening of the Clough Commons, recently put under the administrative and programmatic control of the Libraries with guidance from the Clough Commons Academic Advisory Committee. At the request of the student leadership, we’re also working on an internship program in Washington, D.C. and strengthening of similar activities in Georgia. We are investigating a way to provide a health insurance ombudsman for students (graduate and undergraduate). We are looking at strengthening the communication requirements and services. Campaign Georgia Tech seeks to improve and expand the Georgia Tech Promise scholarship program so that all qualified students can attend Tech.

We can go a long way in addressing the concerns of some of our students by increasing opportunities for faculty interaction. A lot can be achieved by simply repurposing part of ongoing activities. It will indeed require some incentives for students, faculty and staff. But more importantly, it requires a change of culture. That must begin with all of us—students, faculty and staff—accepting the premise that an unacceptably large minority of students are not fully satisfied and we all must work to provide opportunities for engagement.


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