Cultivating Connections in a Community of Learners

Cultivating Connections in a Community of Learners

I still vividly recall my first college class when I was 17 years old. Prior to arriving at college, I had read all the self-help literature that suggested that I should make myself memorable to my professors if I wanted to succeed. So, immediately after that first class, I stood nervously at the back of the line of students waiting to speak to the professor. When my turn came, I awkwardly thrust my hand in the professor’s direction and in a single breath gasped, “Hi-my-name-is-Melanie-and-I-just-wanted-to-tell-you-that-I’m-really-excited-to-take-your-course.” What I didn’t know at the time was that this professor would turn into an important mentor in my professional life and that such relationships are no accident.

These days, as assistant professor of biblical and theological studies, I find myself on the other side of the classroom welcoming new students to their first classes at Fresno Pacific University. Because I teach many first-year students, I often have students who, like me at their age, are eager to make a connection with their professors. Like me, too, many of these students are about to discover that it’s no accident that Fresno Pacific University will afford them opportunities to develop significant relationships that may well impact the rest of their lives.     

The community of learners at FPU has allowed me as a faculty member to make the sort of meaningful connections with my students that my college mentor was able to make with me. I take it as a badge of honor when students send me invitations to their sports matches, invitations to their weddings, requests to support them with letters of recommendation and updates about their lives after college. I value such connections just as much as a professor as I did when I was a student.

I have learned that these links I get to make with students are not a coincidence. Rather, they are evidence of a careful and intentional cultivation of this community. One of the ways in which Fresno Pacific University nurtures these student-professor connections is through its strategic goals. One of these goals is to “Transform Purposefully.” This goal sets out a vision for the whole institution. However, it also highlights the importance of purposeful transformation for every member of the community. Such transformation happens as community members engage in learning together. In doing this, FPU intentionally cultivates a brand of community life that allows me to make the same kinds of important connections with my students that my college mentor made with me.

As things ramp up for the start of the 2021-2022 academic year, FPU’s campuses are abuzz with activity in preparation for a new class of students who are about to become a part of this community. Yet for all the preparations that are going into writing syllabi, setting up classroom furniture and dusting off dorm rooms, the most important groundwork has already been laid: the creation of a community that nurtures meaningful connection. When the Fresno Pacific Idea names FPU a “Community of Learners,” this doesn’t just mean a new batch of students will be assimilated into an existing community. This means that all of us—students, faculty, staff, administrators, board members and alumni alike—engage together in a quest for truth. As preparations are made for this new season of academic life, I pray that God’s Spirit would be at work in all of us so that we might be purposefully transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) in community with one another.


Melanie A. Howard, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor and Program Director of Biblical and Theological Studies