Education Beyond the Classroom
Faculty Perfect the Art of Mentoring Students
By Megan McDermott '14
All it takes is a stroll by faculty offices—and a little eavesdropping—to get a feel for the powerful bonds Susquehanna students develop with their professors. You might catch snippets of a psychology professor talking to a student about mental health careers, or a chemistry professor guiding a student research assistant through a complex experiment.
You might even glance inside an open office door to find a student and professor engaged in a lively discussion about the day’s events. Whatever the topic, one thing’s certain: Susquehanna faculty members are mentoring students on a regular basis. These one-on-one interactions, made possible by the university’s low student-to-faculty ratio, are among the most important experiences students have as undergraduates.
Megan Janssen '06 Schroeder, Kevin Bleistein '12 and Ashley Shade '04 can attest. Each had encounters with faculty that blossomed into profoundly impactful mentoring relationships.
“YOU HAVE TO HAVE a positive experience in undergrad science relationships to even consider pursuing a graduate degree,” says Megan Schroeder. And she should know. Since graduating from Susquehanna, the biochemistry major has earned her doctorate degree in pharmacology from Georgetown University and completed two postdoctoral fellowships, one at Georgetown and the other at the National Institutes of Health.
Schroeder, who now works as a pharmacologist for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), credits Associate Professor of Chemistry Geneive E. Henry with giving her many of the positive undergraduate experiences that proved helpful to her as a graduate student.
Schroeder got to know Henry when she took Henry’s Organic Chemistry class, and before long, organic chemistry was her favorite subject. During the class, Henry and Schroeder began connecting over mutual passions for organic chemistry, learning and teaching. Schroeder tutored other students who needed help in the class and spent a year as Henry’s teaching assistant for the course.
Although she loved organic chemistry, Schroeder says Henry’s Medicinal Chemistry course was life-altering. “That class was the reason I pursued a Ph.D. in pharmacology,” she says.
She gained valuable research experience studying natural product chemistry (the root of many therapeutic medications and drug precursors) with Henry during her senior year. It was a great fit for a student like Schroeder, who had become fascinated with the scientific study of pharmaceuticals.
Besides having well-matched interests, Henry and Schroeder also had compatible mentoring and learning styles. “For the first couple of weeks I will be very hands-on with them, but after that, I deliberately step back,” Henry says. Though she makes herself available for questions, taking a step back is “how they really learn to stand on their own two feet,” says Henry. Schroeder, who says she learns best “doing it and making my own mistakes,” thrived under Henry’s direction. “She was there when I had questions, but I could also sort through them on my own.”
Along with independence, Schroeder credits her undergraduate research experience with cultivating her confidence, creativity and problem-solving skills. She says the qualities she developed at Susquehanna gave her an advantage in her graduate work and enabled her to complete her doctorate program in four years rather than the standard five. Schroeder says the opportunity to form mentoring relationships with professors like Henry was a highlight of her Susquehanna experience. Similarly, Henry says, “One of the major reasons I elected to come to Susquehanna is because of the small chemistry department, which gives me the opportunity to interact with students on a personal level.”