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Faculty master helps students grow

“That’s my garden,” laughs Professor and Faculty Master C. Robert Emerson as he points to a picture of the Binghamton University rowing team. “I’m not growing vegetables; I’m watching them grow.”

Emerson, an engineering professor, knows the statement is a bit corny, but there’s truth to it.

The way he sees it, it’s up to him to plant the seed and supply the proverbial water once in awhile, but the rest is out of his hands.

“Rowing is a different kind of sport because during the race the coach is absolutely inconsequential,” says Emerson, who earned his doctorate in Industrial Engineering from Purdue while coaching rowing there. “I don’t get to call a time out and I’m not making substitutions. Once I push them off the dock, I’m done. It’s the coach’s job to prepare them to stand on their own.”

And his role as faculty master for Mountainview College is no different. Every year he welcomes about 1,200 students and supplies them with the tools needed for a good start to their college careers.

“My goal is to make the transition to academic life as easy as possible for students,” Emerson says.

By splitting his time between classroom professor and faculty master, Emerson enjoys a deeper interaction with students because he’s more involved in student life. He’s there to answer their questions — “Can a professor really do that?” — and address their concerns — “I thought a semester would last a lot longer.”

“I get to know their names, where they are from. I get to know them personally,” he says. “And they get to see me as a human being instead of just some mean man in the front of a classroom.”

This rare personal interaction of professor and student is fostered by Binghamton University’s distinct collegiate system, which groups students into six communities, each with its own faculty master. “It’s borrowed from the Oxford Cambridge English model,” Emerson says. “The idea is to get the students into the collegiate environment, get them to identify with their communities.”

Surveys show that when students get to know faculty members, their college experiences are more meaningful, more enjoyable. Emerson says that’s because “they get to know us as human beings instead of talking heads. The closer the bond the student has with a faculty member — through a research project, through faculty masters, through the dinners we have here or being with a faculty fellow — that helps keep them here and helps them have a positive attitude about their education and their school.”

“It’s fun to deal with students. It’s fun to watch them grow,” he says and chuckles again. “It’s also fun to watch them make the mistakes you warned them about.”

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Last Updated: 11/3/09