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The incoming freshman class, as well as having the distinction of being the best class Penn has ever accepted, may also be the neediest. Because of an increased reliance on technology, they will require close connections with their professors, almost-constant e-mail contact and will attend the most office hours.

It used to be that professors came to the University, taught their lectures, did their research and then went home, leaving their professional lives behind them. With the dawn of e-mail however, professors were on call even when they left their offices. Students started popping up at all hours of the day and night. Professors could find countless e-mails before they went to bed and even more — since students are prone to all-nighters — first thing in the morning.

Students are looking to forge closer relationships with their professors. But is a closer relationship really necessary for a better education?

While professors may complain about increasing student neediness, outreach makes a huge impact on student engagement and general attitude toward higher education.

Al Filreis, English professor and faculty director of Kelly Writers House, began his teaching career at Penn 25 years ago, around the time that e-mail was first coming into play in higher education. He said that at the time, many of his colleagues told students that e-mailing them was not an option. Although this was not the case for Filreis — he readily embraced e-mail and quickly incorporated it into his pedagogy — he speculates that professors didn’t like it because it “changed the dynamic” and gave the faculty more work.

The current obsession with constant communication certainly is very different from the two-to-four weekly office hours professors had held before. Can you imagine having an urgent question about a paper and having to wait a week until the next class to ask it? Professors were held at a distance. There’s no way they would’ve accidentally received that off-color YouTube video intended for your significant other.

But a closer connection with professors is something the students want when they come to college, said Filreis, who insists that all of his students call him Al. While some professors were shying away from instant communication, he was using it to continue class discussions long after the seminar had ended. “I was one of the first avid users of electronic mailing lists — listservs,” Filreis said. “We used to continue the discussion after class.”

Not all professors think increased interaction with students is critical to their learning. English instructor Rosemary O’Neill — who only recently finished her doctorate and was not long ago a student herself — doesn’t shy away from fostering relationships with her students. However, she also doesn’t believe it’s important for the learning itself.

Yet the act of learning and the intimacy of a seminar can naturally lead to a closer relationship between students and faculty — one that can be beneficial. O’Neill said she has also had relationships “spill outside the classroom” with students coming to her to discuss life topics more generally.

O’Neill asked me if the ability to talk non-school subjects with professors was a quality I looked for in my teachers. I don’t expect every professor to friend me on Facebook or ask me to lunch a few times a semester, but those who do really strengthen my connection to Penn — and make me go to classes and force me to take my education more seriously.

We walk around campus every day, sometimes forgetting that we’re surrounded by 100-year-old buildings and world-famous professors, so when one of these professors reaches out to a student, it really should motivate us to work a little harder. It’s up to those professors who reach out to their students to stop this higher-education apathy which is becoming more and more prevalent.

Wiktoria Parysek is a College senior from Berlin. Her e-mail address is Wiki-Pedia appears on alternate Mondays.

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