“I enjoy teaching Muhlenberg students because their curiosity fuels my own, and their questions cause me to think. A warm community based on learning develops where we engage each other in and out of the classroom. Faculty and students collaborate, explore, and learn together.”
These words, written by Dr. Richard Niesenbaum, associate professor of biology at Muhlenberg College, get at the heart of what makes America’s liberal arts colleges great. It is the possibility of real relationships between students and professors, and the impact those relationships can have on what a student learns and how a student views himself or herself from that point forward.
Colleges differ greatly in allowing for and encouraging those special relationships between students and faculty that infuse energy and inspiration into the learning process. Too much of higher education today is built more on a “factory model” than on the model of an intimate learning community. Too many students are subjected to huge lecture classes, to little personal contact with faculty, to few opportunities for mentored research or even the important conversations that can encourage, prod, uplift and move forward.
The Colleges of Distinction on this website have been chosen, in part, because they are particularly interested in fostering those relationships. In fact, these colleges offer environments where that special potential for mentorship between students and faculty is often an absolutely intentional part of the college’s character.
If you are considering some of these Colleges of Distinction, you are probably a student who values your relationship with your teachers. You may already have had the experience of an influential teacher encouraging you and inspiring you. Perhaps you have decided that this potential for real relationship with faculty is an important part of your college selection process.
If so, congratulations! You are already on the road to maximizing your education. Virtually nothing (with the possible exception of a truly great book) can take the place of personal interaction between an inspiring teacher and an interested, engaged student. So often, it is in those special spaces and special moments that the most important part of education happens. If that is what you want and what you value, then you are looking in the right place.
Perhaps the most difficult part of a college search is to get at the essential essence of the colleges you are considering. What are their core values? What do they stand for? What will it be like to live there and learn there for the coming four years? Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions and to dig beneath the surface. Ask about who does the teaching, about student-faculty relationships, about opportunities for mentored research, about student satisfaction with the quality of their relationships with faculty. I wish each of you good luck and great fortune in finding a college that is truly a learning community where students and faculty view each other as collaborators in the great educational adventure that college can be.