Bringing Out Your Best
It takes just one person to believe in you. Dornsife Faculty Fellows take their undergraduate mentorship roles to the next level.By Pamela J. Johnson
September 28, 2011
Incoming undergraduates, would you like an engraved invitation to visit your professors during their office hours?
Now you have one.
Designated as Dornsife Faculty Fellows, 27 professors in USC Dornsife are building intellectual relationships by providing one-on-one attention to their undergraduate students who are taking their First-Year Investigations (FYI) seminars in small class settings.
Take Stephen Bradforth, professor of chemistry in USC Dornsife, who used to feel like the Maytag repairman during his office hours. In some of his classes of 250 freshmen, students wouldn’t visit his office until midterms. Then there would be a line of students in front of his door hoping to get nuggets of wisdom about what might be on the test.
"As a faculty fellow, I'm pleased that my class is seeing faculty in a new way,” Bradforth said. “They are more willing now to go see faculty in their offices and they understand that I’m here to help them get the most out of their time at USC.”
Bradforth is among the faculty fellows appointed by USC Dornsife Dean Howard Gillman. He is teaching an FYI course about the global energy crisis. Faculty fellows are not only teachers, they are loyal mentors. They are helping students in their transition from high school or as transfer students new to campus. Perhaps most important, they are educating them about research opportunities, helping them to choose a research topic then pinpointing resources and programs such as Student Opportunities for Academic Research (SOAR), Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) and Problems Without Passports (PWP).
This academic year, the faculty fellows are teaching 30, two-unit, credit-no credit FYI courses on subjects from the significance of the Civil War on American life to medicine in the 21st century. Some subjects are unusual like investigating why people believe in weird things and interrogating what it means to be real. Humanities, social sciences and science seminars are offered.
Gillman said the 27 faculty fellows are instrumental in continuing to shape USC Dornsife’s collective identity. They are helping students enlarge their vision of what their undergraduate years can hold.
“Through their First-Year Investigations seminars and guidance these faculty fellows will encourage students to realize that the possibilities for intellectual inquiry within the letters, arts and sciences are limitless,” Gillman said.
The creators of the FYI program and Dornsife Faculty Fellow designations were George Sanchez, professor of American studies and ethnicity, and history, and vice dean of diversity in USC Dornsife; Donal Manahan, professor of biological sciences and vice dean for students; and Steven Lamy, professor of international relations and vice dean for academic programs.
This Fall, Sanchez and Lamy are teaching FYI seminars, “Understanding Los Angeles,” and “Saving Strangers: Duties Beyond Borders,” respectively. In the Spring, Manahan will be teaching a course about human health and the environment, "Global Human Health on a Changing Planet."
Manahan noted that finding one’s place at a liberal arts college offering more than 60 majors and 80 minors within a major research institution can sometimes be daunting for freshmen.
“We’re creating a sense of community in USC Dornsife within a research university,” Manahan said.
Manahan, who has taught undergraduate classes for more than 27 years, recalled one of his freshmen who after a few weeks considered returning to the East Coast. Manahan and the student grabbed a cup of tea and walked around campus, discussing options.
“The student realized at some point leaving home would have to happen, either now or later,” Manahan said.
“Maybe I’ll try a few more weeks,” the student told Manahan.
“After a few more weeks, then Thanksgiving came,” Manahan recalled. “By the end of the semester the penny dropped and everything started to hum.
“Sometimes the issue is just having someone to talk to.”
Faculty fellow Margaret Rosenthal said sometimes her best students are her shiest ones.
“For whatever reason they don’t feel empowered to speak in class,” said Rosenthal who is teaching FYI seminar “Renaissance Man/Renaissance Woman in American Culture.”
“My heart goes out to them,” she said. “Faculty fellows give students another opportunity to talk to professors one-on-one about research that interests them. This breaks the ice. They learn that I’m somebody with whom the door is always open. They may be nervous at first but once we talk openly one-on-one, the professor comes off the pedestal and becomes more human.”
Dornsife Faculty Fellows