The importance of building faculty relationships

Growing up, I had always been told that people find their ideal careers because of who they know, not what they know. As I began my professional education journey, I quickly realized this was very much the case. Where do I look to find these people? Will anyone I approach take me seriously? How do I meet the right people to help me find a job? These were questions I struggled with, wondering if all of the years of education were going to help me long term. 

Thankfully, Portland State’s School of Business allowed me to enjoy what I was learning and pushed me out of my comfort zone to grow my professional network. As I began my major-specific courses, I realized that I actually do like school, and it is all worth it! I became fascinated by all of the resources and knowledge that my faculty and peers had about marketing, career advice, and so much more.

One of the first relationships I leveraged within The School of Business was with marketing professor Brandon Reich. He taught some of my first major-specific courses — marketing management and consumer behavior — and helped ignite my interest in marketing. I was intentional to be involved during class and worked to be a great team member to others. For me, it was essential to be as engaged as my schedule allowed to ensure that my peers and professors understood my professionalism and drive. 

In an attempt to build my resume, I had completed an internship during winter term, but I did not feel adequately rewarded from the experience. The intern position was advertised as a marketing role that involved working with local clients, developing marketing techniques and implementing new CRM systems. When I began the internship, the company was undergoing staffing and policy changes that shifted my duties to administration and reception. I was disappointed because I wasn’t able to build on my marketing skills in the way I had expected. 

As I neared the last term of my senior year, I reached out to Brandon with my concerns that I was graduating soon and still felt a looming lack of experience. Because I had been proactive about building our relationship, he offered me a role as a paid assistant for his spring marketing management course. 

As my last year was winding down, I was also able to build a relationship with another marketing professor, Jacob Suher. I had the opportunity to take market strategy management as well as customer information and relationship management with him. Not only did I find the material interesting, but Jacob was an excellent professor. Both courses had a rigorous amount of course work, but I enjoyed the assignments so much, it didn’t even feel like work! I continued to be an active participant and built a good relationship with Jacob as I headed into graduation. 

When I decided to apply for The Portland MBA, both Brandon and Jacob were glad to serve as my two professional references for my application. Jacob has also offered me a paid role as a graduate assistant, where I will be able to build my marketing skills further, serve as student support, and work with Portland-based companies. 

The School of Business has excellent and diversified faculty who are more than willing to assist you with growing your skills and network. I was hesitant to take that first step of asking for help, but Brandon and Jacob exceeded my expectations in answering my questions, compensating me for my work, and supporting me in building a variety of new skills and experiences. It can be intimidating to take that first step, but the time you spend building faculty relationships can significantly assist your future professional opportunities.

Top tips for building faculty relationships

Speak up. The first step in building a professional connection is introducing yourself! Depending on the course level and class size, your professors may or may not recognize you in the hallway. Students who take small steps to make their voice heard are more likely to develop a relationship, increasing the likelihood of being memorable throughout their educational journey. If you are more introverted, don’t be intimidated to reach out to professors in whatever way you feel comfortable — many of them are introverts, too (whether they show it or not). Whether it is in class, Zoom, office hours, or email, let your professors know when you have any feedback, questions, or deeper connection points to the material. They truly do appreciate it!

Don’t doubt yourself, and embrace your curiosities. I used to think that “No question is a dumb question” was an overused saying, but it helped me build relationships and thrive in my coursework. It is not always easy to ask questions, especially if you doubt yourself in an academic setting. I would often muster up the courage to ask a question and immediately worry that the class was annoyed by me, or thought I wasn’t smart, or the professor already said the answer. As a woman and business student in a male-dominated setting, these worries became even more prevalent.

To my surprise, I had classmates reach out to me to be on a team or ask me questions. Also, the professors emailed me to thank me for asking my clarifying questions, and I built several faculty and peer connections. I had fallen into “imposter syndrome,” which is common, especially among women in academia. Looking back, I can see my negative thoughts were not the truth, but they affected my ability to believe in myself the way I should have. It is vital to make the effort to push past these negative feelings and recognize that you are valid and important! Others do want to hear your thoughts, and you will be recognized for sharing them, not diminished. 

Professors want to help you. We are all on the same team! Professors often make it difficult to imagine a time when they weren’t the smartest person in the room, but we quickly forget that they were once sitting in a study hall with a professor they felt the same way about. They have first-hand experience being overwhelmed by school and working to grow their career. It is important to remember that a professor’s goal is to help you grow as a student and as an individual. When I began utilizing the faculty resources, I realized they can help you with much more than understanding course material — they are here to support our academic and professional success.

Elise Leritz-Higgins is a full-time Portland MBA candidate and a recent graduate from The School of Business with a Bachelor’s in Marketing. She grew up in the Portland area. Elise worked as a sales manager at Michael Kors and is now shifting into a client relations specialist role with a financial firm.

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