I opened the navy blue folder, quickly flipped through the generic academic information, and found my unofficial transcript, scanning the page until my eyes came to rest on a name: Eric Grosfils. Eric (or Professor Grosfils as he was known to me at the time) was the professor tasked with being my academic advisor. After a quick Google search, I learned that Eric was a professor in the geology department (my intended major before coming to Pomona and my official major as of two days ago), and that his academic interests included geophysics and planetary geology.
Upon finding out who their advisor is, students’ reactions range from excitement to ambivalence. I wasn’t just ambivalent; in fact I wasn’t even apathetic. I was distressed. Concentrations such as Eric’s were a far-cry from my own area of interest (vertebrate paleontology), and I was concerned about how much advice he could actually provide that would help me navigate my four years at Pomona on the way to a career in paleontology.
When I arrived as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed first-year a little more than a year ago, one of the aspects of Pomona that I found remarkable was the amount of support and resources that students (especially first-years) have access to. Not only do we have the sponsor group system, which can sometimes become a family-away-from-home, but first-years also have RA’s, head sponsors, other student mentor groups, administrators, and of course, academic advisors. Many of these different resources (as well as the long list of other organizations, groups, and initiatives) serve not only as foundations for one’s college career, but also as foundations for strong interpersonal relationships that may last a lifetime. I was excited about the prospect of forming relationships with many of these people, but my academic advisor wasn’t one of them.
That sentiment had nothing to do with Eric in particular. Instead, it had more to do with my own (erroneous) opinion that I didn’t really need much advising. In the summer months leading up to my arrival on campus, I had not only laid out the basic blueprints for my college career, but had also built a whole infrastructure containing my four-year plan; I felt confident in my desire to double major in geology and economics, in the classes I wanted to take, and in the broader academic experience that I wanted to have. It didn’t help that for most of my life, when it came to paleontology, I’d had to do the research myself and to find the answers to my questions without any real guiding presence. Coming to Pomona, I had a basic expectation that someone (hopefully my advisor) would have more experience or background in paleontology-related matters and that he / she would be able to help guide me through higher education en route to my desired career. However, once I learned that Eric was to be my advisor, I lowered my expectations; after all, what does a geophysicist know about dinosaurs?
Fast forward a little more than a year and a month after meeting Eric for the first time and I’m glad that I was wrong about practically everything that I wrote above, because having an academic advisor has been one of the greatest blessings from Pomona. Eric has been one of the most instrumental people in helping me to define and to chart my experience at Pomona thus far, and it’s impossible to articulate how much I value having him as my advisor. He’s helped me navigate the area requirements, balance my course load, figure out the ins and outs of sciences at Pomona, and provided a lot of very relevant information for furthering my aspirations to be a paleontologist.
When he doesn’t know the answers or the best solution, he’s always been able to direct me to someone who does. He even connected me with a local paleontological researcher before I’d even taken my first class at Pomona. But most importantly, he’s always been there when I needed advice on something / anything.
He’s helped me through the bumpy road of choosing my major (one of the hardest experiences in my life) by providing invaluable advice while remaining impartial, let me bounce ideas off of him for summer opportunities and extracurricular activities on campus, and always finds the time to chat a little bit about non-academic / non-Pomona related topics. No matter how stressed and worried I’ve been about different things, he always brings a calming, level-headed presence to the table, and he always takes a practical, straightforward line of inquiry and thought in order to help me with whatever I need.
So Eric, thanks for being there when I needed you, for being there when I didn’t think I needed you, for believing in me, and for providing the right balance of guidance and advice while allowing me to make my own decisions and to figure out the answers to the big questions.