Before college, I heard that I needed to find a good advisor. Someone who could guide me through my classes and prepare me for life afterward. Kalamazoo College assigns every first-year student an advisor when you come into school, in conjunction with your First-Year Seminar. First-Year Seminars are for incoming students to develop their critical thinking, writing and discussion skills. My First-Year Seminar was We Too Are Americans, about minorities in America. The Seminar was taught by Dr. Kathy Smith, who became my advisor; this was convenient for me, because I was able to connect with my advisor in every class period. In advisor meetings, we are supposed to discuss classes we want to take in the next term, goals for our college careers, and what we are doing in preparation for our futures. Although my advisor was supportive and inviting, she was not in the physics department, so she could not guide me through my intended major.
Fast forward to sophomore year. I realized I would benefit from having an advisor in my department. Near the end of fall term, I heard that Dr. Smith would be retiring at the end of the school year. This made it clear that a new advisor was necessary. Over winter break, I decided to go to the physics department to talk about my future at K with a professor that I had connected with, who had reached out to me when it became clear that I was off track for my major. Unfortunately, he was not there that day, but Dr. Tom Askew, the head of the 3/2 engineering program was present. Although I intended to talk about physics, he convinced me to think about the 3/2 engineering program. Ideally, I would take physics, math, computer science and chemistry courses at Kalamazoo College and then transfer to an accredited engineering school and receive a Bachelor of Science in an ABET-accredited engineering program and a bachelor’s degree in physics at Kalamazoo College. He and I spoke for over an hour about future courses and more involvement on campus. The appointment ended with him offering to be my advisor.
Over the rest of the school year, I regularly met with him. Unlike my other advisor and mentors, he did not sugar coat his messages. He was honest about my strengths and weaknesses in academics and where he saw my future. At times I would take offense, because I had not had anyone be so honest with me. His transparency helped me to be realistic. He was also the first to congratulate me when I had a stellar term.
I also credit my advisor for encouraging me to study abroad. I did not think I would be able to go because I did not take all the classes for my major in the intended order. He pushed me to talk to counselors at the Center for International Programs about my options and how I could work it into the curriculum. I applied and was accepted into the Costa Rica program for the fall term. While there, he kept in contact with me and helped schedule me for classes since I did not always have an internet connection while traveling. His persistence made me grateful for the professors I would be returning to when I came back to campus.
When I returned, he and I spoke about my future and transferring to Western Michigan University to finish off the major. Like many other times when I stopped in his office, he and I talked about the future of infrastructure in the United States, sustainability efforts on our campus and my plans for the summer. From that conversation, he thought the David Hawkins ’62 Student Research Fellowship for the Study of Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy or Environmental Sustainability would be an appropriate research opportunity for me. While my path at Kalamazoo College has not been linear, I have always been able to find support that has helped shape my path and open doors to new opportunities. I will forever be grateful for the number of times my advisor, Dr. Askew, has gambled on me.
Leah Tood is a 3/2 engineering major at Kalamazoo College.