Professors and Institutions Need to Care More About Their Students

College students: have you ever felt disconnected from your learning experience, particularly your teachers? Professor David Pecoraro understands where you're coming from. He and fellow educator Dr. Daniel de Roulet think that institutions need to focus more on caring for their individual charges, which will breed greater success for both students and faculty. That's why they've started the Student Caring Project. How can your professors make your college experience more fulfilling?

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By Eric Garneau

David Pecoraro

David C. Pecoraro has always loved learning and teaching. According to him, the college environment was so appealing as a student that he immediately transitioned to professorship after earning his Master of Fine Arts from Temple University in 1980. Since then, he's taught theater design and management courses at a number of schools both public (University of California Irvine) and private (Vanguard University, where he now works). With the Student Caring Project, he and Dr. de Roulet want to revolutionize the way higher education thinks about educating its youth. What should professors be doing differently when it comes to you, the student?

Education-Portal.com: What led to your founding Student Caring?

David Pecoraro: The Student Caring Project began when a student of mine, Jonathan de Roulet, came home one day energized about a class that I was teaching, 'Career Directions and Your Daily Bread.' The class helps students discover their career paths by exploring their skills, passions, knowledge and abilities. He shared his enthusiasm with his father, Dr. Daniel de Roulet, who a short while later invited me to partner with him to co-author a book about student caring. This was instantly a perfect match for our interests and backgrounds. Together we've had over 50 years of combined teaching experience in higher education, and all along the way we've been keeping notes about student caring. For us this is personal, too, since we both have children in college. Our work on this project began in January 2011. We see it as a solution to many problems that currently plague higher education.

E-P: Your website promises 'a new way of thinking about college.' What does that new way entail, and what was wrong with the 'old way'?

DP: Many college students and recent graduates feel a lack of connection to their education and their colleges. We believe the key to meeting these challenges is in how professors think about and interact with their students. At the core of the 'new way' is the need to refocus the faculty on those students. A key component of that is for all students to have a faculty member as their go-to mentor, a professor who will be their guide throughout their college years and even afterward. Our job is not just to teach but to help students navigate their education. The university administrative trend has been to farm out that job to others, to focus only on teaching the subject and engaging in research.

E-P: Student Caring seems to espouse a holistic approach to looking after students. In what ways do you think modern education is lacking in that area?

DP: Schools and departments are separated in a university, while what the students experience is with all schools and departments. We need to be unified with our focus on the students. As one of our listeners said in an iTunes review of the Student Caring Podcast, 'Our only hope is to pool resources and techniques. We have to do our best to work to help our students as they make their way to graduation and a tough job market.'

E-P: What are some things educators can do differently to encourage student development?

DP: Professors need resources and time to know who their students are on an ongoing basis. Who our students are is continually changing from generation to generation, year to year, class to class and student to student. Faculty need to know and care about the pressures that students experience. To encourage student development the faculty needs development in this area.

E-P: In the same way, how can students help professors treat them better?

DP: When a professor makes an offer to be available to students, take advantage of that opportunity. Give professors feedback on what they are or aren't doing to meet your needs. Even though that might be difficult to do, it's essential. Every good business has a way for the customer to provide feedback, and if they don't it will most likely become available on the Internet. Chat with us; let us know how you're doing. Those rewards are very important to us. We're encouraged when we learn that the seeds we planted bear fruit.

E-P: Student Caring's site makes several references to building a community. Who do you want to include there, and what would you like to see that community do?

DP: We envision a community that consists of parents, professors and university administration. These groups support the student who becomes a member. The last members are comprised of groups in our society who will receive and employ the students upon graduation. All we need to do is look at the success of the Facebook community, which began its formation in education and which students today can barely live without. Facebook is filling their need. Today's students are looking for a whole and connected education; they want to learn, they want to become part of a community and they want their investment in college to prepare them for what comes next. Uniting faculty, administration and parents around and for the student creates an ideal student-centered community. The result will be success for our students, our professors and all of higher education.

E-P: Is there anything else you'd like our readers to know about Student Caring?

DP: We're writing what we believe will be a transformational book for higher education. As we continue to write, we need to hear more from students, administrators, professors and parents about what works and what doesn't. We're seeking opinions, stories and examples about when student caring does and doesn't thrive. Feedback may be provided via our website (where you can also subscribe to our free newsletter), by phone (855-639-9292) or by e-mail (david@studentcaring.com or daniel@studentcaring.com).

We'll be presenting a paper and conducting a workshop at the Hawaii International Conference on Higher Education from January 5-8, 2012. We'll be having our first 'Student Caring Community' meet-up in Waikiki, where we look forward to meeting our growing community.

We invite your readers to listen to our podcast, broadcast every two weeks, where we take our listeners with us through our academic year and discuss student caring. This is available free via iTunes or direct download from our website. You can also share The Student Caring Project with your friends and colleagues via Twitter and Facebook.

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