The graduating class of ’23 owes a lot of who they have become to their professors.
For many students, these relationships grow to mean a lot more than sitting under lectures, and over time, look more like sitting across a table in deep conversation, over a meal or in prayer.
The Echo is grateful for the opportunity to share the stories of five graduating seniors who have been profoundly touched by both mentorship and friendship with professors during their years at Taylor.
Claire Nieshalla is a public relations major with a concentration in marketing and an honors guild minor.
She was thankful to have connected with communication professor and head of the public relations major, Donna Downs, at the start of her freshman year.
“That’s just something that’s so unique about Taylor, is the professor to student relationship, that I don’t think you’ll find many other places,” Nieshalla said.
After Nieshalla brought forward an idea about a public relations campaign, Downs adjusted the class syllabus around the project.
This is just one example of how she creates space for a student-focused learning environment within her classroom.
“When I think of a well-rounded approach to higher education, I think of Dr. Donna Downs,” Nieshalla said. “She is knowledgeable in her field yet receptive to and encourages students’ fresh ideas. Dr. Downs is alert to the unique gifts and talents her students possess, actively engaging in a professor-student relationship that creates organic space for those to develop and flourish.”
Nieshalla admires how Downs’ life models the kind of communication, integrity and diligence that she desires for her students.
Ultimately, it is her above-and-beyond investment in their lives that is so formative.
“Along with preparing us for the workplace, she is invested in the whole person, praying for us based on the requests written in her notebook,” Nieshalla said. “Excellence is expected, and her servant-leadership makes me want to deliver just that.”
Mallory Robertson is studying elementary education with a special education concentration.
Like Nieshalla, Robertson also expressed her gratitude to have experienced two relationships with faculty that went beyond their job description to mentor her.
Melissa Jessup is a special education professor whose work, Robertson believes, is marked by a deep sense of passion and care.
“She has been someone who just has consistently cared for me really well as a professor,” Robertson said. “No matter what we’re talking about, she’ll start telling stories and you can see on her face how much she loves it, and I love watching that.”
Robertson has been deeply encouraged by the way Jessup has shown up for her.
Together, the two have walked through difficult situations and tearful conversations. Jessup has blessed Robertson with the way she has listened to, comforted and prayed for her.
Another valuable relationship for Robertson was with Susie Bill, an admissions counselor who she has worked under for two and a half years.
“She has become kind of like my campus mom,” Robertson said. “I’m always in her office and she’ll give me snacks, she’ll talk to me about everything — life, boys, friends. She’ll consistently give me advice and speak words of wisdom and speak the truth over me, but also in such a practical way.”
Bill has opened up her home to Robertson throughout the years as well. It’s been a special opportunity for Robertson to connect with a local family.
Both Sawyer Watterson and Emma Shoemaker are majoring in human physiology and preventative medicine.
Each has expressed the value they’ve found in being mentored by kinesiology professor Erik Hayes. Hayes leads a senior capstone class for his department that Shoemaker greatly enjoyed taking during J-term.
“It wasn’t really so much a class as it was just sitting down … with Dr. Hayes and him giving us his just genuine, raw life advice, and just really challenging us with questions on why we want to go into healthcare and, even outside of that, what it means to live a well-lived life,” Shoemaker said.
His students have expressed he is someone whose passion drives his leadership both in and out of the classroom, and they see great value in the legacy he has left in word and precedent.
Watterson has specifically been blessed by Hayes’ example in modeling what it is to live fully and rightly.
“His words have refreshed my soul time and again, and I have caught his fire for seeing the gospel carried out through medicine and living rightly,” Watterson said. “Dr. Hayes has this way of getting you to step back out of your narrow perspective and to look higher … I have learned so much from him and cannot possibly put it all into words. The closest I can come is simply that I will live a better, deeper, and fuller life because of him.”
Isaac Yops is a finance major whose college experience certainly would not have looked the same without the mentorship of associate dean of business and leadership, Jody Hirschy.
Upon entering a difficult marketing class in the second semester of his freshman year — which was also a semester of navigating COVID regulations — Yops sought help from Hirschy, who offered consistent academic support and encouragement.
“I went from coming in kind of overwhelmed with this course load to loving the class and learning so much from it,” Yops said. “And it kind of shaped the trajectory of the rest of my time at Taylor.”
That was the semester Yops decided he wanted to graduate in three years. Hirschy helped him feel empowered to pursue this goal, even amidst a hard class. As he prepares to graduate, Yops is grateful to look back and reflect on those, like Hirschy, who have been instrumental in helping him get to this point.
There may be many students wondering how they too can develop a thriving relationship with a professor, faculty member or other mentor prospect.
Each of the five students’ stories affirm what Robertson was getting at when she said, “I haven’t encountered a professor here that I thought wouldn’t want to pour into me.”
There are so many other unwritten testimonies of the Lord’s faithfulness in providing edifying, life-shaping relationships on campus and beyond. Take a step in reaching out and pursuing vulnerability, and just see what he can do.