Impactful Instructors at UND

Ava Stockstad, Reporter

Here at UND, there are over 800 instructional faculty members. During your academic career at the University of North Dakota, you may only come across just a small fraction of these teachers and professors. However, one faculty member is enough to change a student’s life.   

College professors can make or break a student’s experience at their university. Especially with new students, college can be a vulnerable place and having a positive experience in the classroom with a kind and understanding professor is vital to feeling secure on campus.  

When asked about a faculty member who made an impact on her life, sophomore Leah Johnson had a name that quickly came to mind; Gabe Kilzer. “He was the only professor I had who was completely understanding during Covid-19 when it came to being sick,” Johnson said. She described how responsive he was when she was unable to come to class for health reasons amidst the pandemic. “He was always flexible with assignments and absences,” Johnson said. It is no surprise that students during the pandemic faced the struggle of being chronically absent. It has been reported that the majority of students across the country during Covid-19 missed approximately 10% of their classes caused by sickness or quarantine restrictions. Without consideration and flexibility from teachers, these absences can be extremely detrimental towards students’ academic performance even if their absence was something they could not control. For Johnson, Professor Kilzer’s understanding allowed her to succeed in his class despite dealing with extremely hindering obstacles.  

Another kind faculty member at UND was recognized by senior Brooke Rossow. Rossow recalled associate professor, Tristan Darland as having a positive impact on her simply from one small act of kindness. “I had a question about a class, and he went and found the specific professor for that class so I could talk to her,” Rossow said. While it may seem like a small favor, this was a memorable moment for Rossow, as it showed Professor Darland’s willingness to help students succeed. While Professor Darland was not teaching any of Rossow’s classes at the time, he still found a way to make her feel recognized as a student, which is a valuable thing.  

Sophomore Rylee Metz named her past chemistry professor, Shaina Mattingly, as being a positive influence on her academic career at UND. “I was falling behind with my grades for a while, and chemistry was a difficult class for me. I started meeting with Professor Mattingly to get help with homework, and she met with me for an hour two to three times a week just to sit with me and help me with my assignments.” Metz said. “She was a great professor especially because she chose to set aside time to help me.” While being in large classroom settings can be beneficial for some, there are many students who seek individual help when their class’s curriculum is not easily comprehensible. Getting one-on-one help from a tutor or professor has a plethora of benefits. For example, it allows students to have personalized learning where their individual needs can be met. Additionally, it allows students to ask questions and receive direct answers. It is also important to note that this sort of communication between student and professor allows for a much healthier classroom dynamic. Professors taking time to assist students personally and work with their learning needs is not only extremely compassionate, but it also helps promise students better comprehension and understanding in their classes. For Metz, this act of kindness from her professor made her feel much more confident in what she was learning, and her professor’s graciousness was not forgotten.   

Junior Haley Curry recalls Professor Melanie Popejoy as being one of the most influential faculty members she had ever come across. After Curry was admitted to the hospital, Popejoy visited her showing that she was not only a supportive professor in the classroom, but also supportive outside of it. “She would always call me the sunshine in the room,” Curry said. She would never forget the love and generosity Professor Popejoy extended to her. When faculty and students choose to extend gratitude and respect to one another, they are directly fostering these positive relationships and mentorships. While school may seem like a place where only temporary connections will be made, students have the opportunity to meet people like Professor Popejoy who can make an impact on their students that will last a lifetime.   

These ideas about the importance of professor and student connections are not just theories but facts. The American Psychological Association states that “…those students who have close, positive, and supportive relationships with their teachers will attain higher levels of achievement than those students with more conflict in their relationships.” Not only is this because personal connections between professors and students often correlate with students having more individual teaching and tutoring, but it is also supported by the fact that students with positive professor relationships are often more motivated and inspired in class. reports that “positive professor interactions encourage less absences and better overall grades.” Because students who think positively of their instructors feel an obligation to meet their expectations, students are consequentially more likely to display academically sufficient performances in their classes.   

It is also reported by that “a teacher’s impact on their students can last long after the end of the school year. After a student has a meaningful connection with their teacher, they are more likely to form similar relationships in the future.” While college may seem like the end of the road for making these faculty and student connections, there are numerous other opportunities past college where these sorts of mentorship connections can be made whether in a future workplace or when making friends throughout adulthood. Recognizing that these impactful interactions with professors can encourage similar connections in the future is a promising thought for many, and it is yet another reason why students and faculty should be encouraged to seek these positive interactions with one another.   

One more thing that students should recognize is that their instructors are human too. Nearly one-third of students report having a professor who they have noticed is stressed or disoriented according to an Inside Higher Ed Survey (2022). According to a 2022 Gallup Poll, “nearly 40% of teachers report feeling overworked and overwhelmed.” Teaching is not an easy profession, and many instructors may find themselves feeling unable to express these feelings. By simply extending a hand of compassion and kindness to an instructor, students can help their professor’s day take a turn for the better. While it is no secret that students are prone to facing vulnerability and tough obstacles throughout school, professors are not typically recognized for persevering through these same struggles.   

Today, show your professors some extra appreciation and remember that your future at UND holds dozens of opportunities to foster positive relationships. You never know what could happen when you reach out to the faculty around you. Impactful mentorships with wonderful instructors are just around the corner. 

Ava Stockstad is a Dakota Student General Reporter. She can be reached at [email protected].