Resource:How to Establish Relations With Faculty to Promote Innovation On Your Campus

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Creating, maintaining, and acting on relationships with faculty at your school are all essential elements to building an innovative campus. This article builds on an interview conducted with Howard University student Attiyah Lanier, and her experience with developing long lasting and constructive relationships with faculty that have helped her make her campus more receptive to innovation in many ways. Below you will find tips and tricks on how to establish these types of connections with professors and mentors in a university setting.

Note: It’s really helpful to have an idea of what you want to do on campus when you reach out to faculty. Nothing is more exciting that working with a woman/man on a mission - that’s you!

Why a Prof?

Reaching out to faculty - often professors - is a great initial step to start implementing innovation related efforts on your campus. Say you want to start a business incubator, create a pop-up class, or create a mentorship program, in all of these cases, working with a professor can make the process of starting something on your campus more efficient and noteworthy. The reasons for this might not be obvious, and maybe you’re thinking that starting something on campus might be easier by simply gathering some motivated friends. Through talking with Attiyah, we realized that working with faculty is often a great - even better - first step than diving in with a few buddies. The reasons for this are many:

  1. You see many professors regularly!
  2. Professors are waiting to hear from students like you - it’s their job.
  3. Your professors may be able to connect you with other motivated, like minded students.
  4. Your professors can also connect you with campus resources and administration that you may not be aware of.

Step 1: Choose Wisely

If you are interested in promoting innovation on your campus, it’s important that you pick someone who is receptive to your ideas. This may seem obvious, but often it helps to dig a little further into a professor’s background to understand if they can be the most effective partner to promote innovation on your campus. Often times, professors may be willing to help, but may not have a depth of knowledge in the areas of entrepreneurship, innovation, and design, so their help may only be able to get so far. You are in it for a relationship - the long haul. So do some snooping, or, even better, ask the professor themselves! From our discussion with Attiyah, professors with the potential for great relationship building in the innovation sector often:

  • Have professional experience in design, entrepreneurship, and/or innovation. Did they have a startup? Did they work for a design firm? If so, they might be a great connection!
  • Understand how to work with diverse teams and people from all walks of life. Chances are, to get special things like business incubators and curricula built, you will all be working with special people.
  • Have a track record of good interaction with students. Ask your friends. And your friends’ friends.
  • Can make some time for another side project. Some innovative profs are awesome, but simply have too little time to effectively help you.
  • Understand that failure is a very real option. If you fail at whatever it is you are trying to do, this person should stick with you as you try again.

Step 2: Initiate Contact

This is the easy part… say hello! It’s easy to forget that professors and administrators are just normal human beings like you. Granted, they have different jobs, and access to resources that you intend to use, but a simple friendly conversation never killed anyone. Moreover, the reason why many of these people are in lecture halls and on campuses is because they enjoy helping people just like you - students. Here are some tricks for starting a conversation with a faculty member that you want to get to know:

  • Talk to them after class! The lecture hall, or classroom, is a neutral space, plus they’re probably expecting someone to come to them with some question. So brighten their day by talking about innovation and being genuinely interested in what they think.
  • Send a quick email. You need to do three things: introduce yourself, introduce your idea, and ask for follow up. These should be short and sweet, and ideally an email perfectly sets up an in person meeting or a phone call. Be courteous, but also be yourself.
  • Find them at an on-campus resource center. Maybe the prof you want to talk to hangs at the writing center all the time, maybe they hang at the maker space, either way, it’s fun to catch a professor outside the classroom where they are actually being themselves.
  • Walk into their office. Office hours are usually posted online, and a quick knock on the door and a request for a few minutes is usually not denied. Make it succinct and ask for follow up though - they might have other things to get to.

Step 3: Stay In Touch

This is the not so easy part. It’s easy to meet once, but how about two or three times? How about regularly? If you have found a faculty member that you connect with, even a great first meeting may not be enough to keep you on their radar. Here are a few tactics for staying in touch to really solidify a faculty relationship:

  • Email them regularly with content that you are producing, or that is relevant to your relationship. People love to hear about cool stuff, and email is a low impact way to keep the fire burning.
  • Schedule recurring meetings. This is true in the business world, and holds when working with faculty - recurring meetings are often the way to go! Once it’s on both of your calendars at an agreed upon time, a simple reminder email the day before is all it takes to keep the relationship up. Don’t worry if the meetings are far apart, as long as they’re happening.
  • Hang out in the same place as your faculty. Take it from Attiyah - she hung around her profs so much that they started giving her work to do!

Step 4: Get Things Done

So you’ve spent all this time getting to know a really awesome faculty member, maybe they started their own company and sold it… and decided to teach, or maybe they have crazy special connections at your school that you didn’t know of. You two should hopefully be friends by now. And friends help friends out. Maybe you came to them with a crazy pie-in the sky idea, and you think that you can finally start talking about making it a reality. Maybe the two of you have schemed up a way to change your school after all of your regularly-scheduled meetings. In any case, here are a few things that you can ask a faculty member to help you with in actually implementing a change at your school. The kind of support you will need can take many forms.

  • Feedback:Your faculty member and you are now more than acquaintances, so ask them for hardball feedback on your concepts for making your campus more innovative. Good feedback is not “I like it” - hopefully you will get ideas about where to improve, and how to do it. If you both agree that the idea is ready to go, perhaps your faculty member can help you validate it by looking at a prototype, or by getting their colleagues to look at your work.
  • Contacts:You’ve pitched your idea a bajillion times to Prof. X, and now you want to pitch it to the school. Ask your faculty member if they can give you some warm email introductions to people that you think can make your project a reality. Even better than warm email introductions are great in person meetings - ask for them!
  • Funding:Unless your professor is independently wealthy (if they are, awesome, and pitch your idea to them as if they were a VC and you were a broke college student), ask them where they think you can find sources of funding. Many professors regularly write grant requests and can help demystify the mulah side of things.


And that’s it! You should now be able to go and make your campus more innovative by acquiring as many faculty besties as you can. In all seriousness, however, the faculty at your school are one of the three key resources for changing your academic environment, along with other students like you, and administrators - so reach out to them and get them on board with the UIF mindset!

Many thanks to Attiyah Lanier for her insight.

Written + Researched by Marc Bouchet, Ben Ferguson, Quintcey_Parrish, and Connor Wolk