If there is one thing I could go back and change at my time at Carolina it would be getting to know my professors better. It can be intimidating — especially in 300+ person classes — to go up to the professor and ask for help let alone try and get to know them better. I always struggled coming up with things to talk to them about, especially if I didn’t have any questions about what I was learning in class.
Should I ask questions about school or perhaps how to get a job? Should I ask them questions about their lives? I didn’t know, so I never asked.
When I started taking classes in the MJ-School and the class size became smaller, I naturally began to know the professors better because we would work on a lot of real-world projects together. Most of the work was collaborative and my professors truly wanted to see us succeed and do our best, so they were always available if we needed help. But in the GenEd classes I took during my first couple of years at UNC, I was stuck in big lectures or classes that I wasn’t that interested in. Because of this, the desire to go to office hours and talk to my professors was extremely low. They seemed unapproachable and again, I just didn’t know what to talk about and was scared to even start a conversation.
But then I met Sonny — a TA in my COMM 325 Organizational Communication class. If any of you go to UNC, I hope you get to meet this man. He is such a light (literally, he’s always smiling) to so many students and easily one of the coolest people to be around. He cares about his students and is dedicated to making everybody he meets feel inspired, empowered and known.
Last semester, all of the TAs in COMM 325 were required to teach one class during the semester and when it was Sonny’s turn, he gave a heartfelt spoken word performance on his roots and what it was like to be a black man in America. He spoke from the lens of being in the car while taking his son to school. The performance not only made class a lot more engaging, but it personalized a real issue going on in America right now, bringing the issue to life and educating each student in the room.
After class, I mustered up the courage to go up to Sonny and talk to him a little more about his life and background. He not only answered all of the questions I had, but became genuinely interested in my life and what I wanted to do with it. He asked about what I was passionate about and what I wanted to do with those passions. This was the first time I felt invested in by somebody who really wanted to help me succeed.
The friendship has continued past last semester and it is easily one of the greatest things I can take with me after I leave this place. Just last week, my friends and I got the chance to sit with Sonny over some Alpine coffee and talk about post-graduation plans and what we wanted to do in the future. It’s been so sweet to get wisdom and life advice from somebody who truly cares about the students he teaches and gain a friend who shares similar interests and passions with me. And to think, I never would have met Sonny if I stayed quiet and hadn’t broken through the fear of getting up and talking to him. So just some encouragement for all of you that are too scared to meet your professors/TAs/etc. — sometimes, all we need is to just start a conversation. Because 10 times out of 10, you won’t be disappointed.