Associate Professor Ray Chandrasekara believes that some of the most impactful teaching and learning takes place outside the classroom. It is why he tries to introduce students to experiences they might not otherwise seek out themselves such as scheduling a trip to Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA, or visiting the Grafton Peace Pagoda in nearby Petersburgh, NY.
These types of creative approaches to instruction have helped "Dr. Ray" - as he is known to most on campus - build stronger connections with students and gain respect as not only a faculty member but as a mentor. As a result, students will often turn to him for guidance if they have an issue and are not sure where to go.
"In my experiences, students are not necessarily expecting you to come up with solutions to their problems," he says. "They are really just looking for someone who will listen, and that has become so much of what I do on campus."
Beyond being a good listener, Ray does other things to help soften the rigid hierarchy that can often be associated with the faculty-student dynamic. For example, he holds office hours in the cafeteria so that students can talk in a more comfortable environment. And by the time they reach their third year, Ray asks students to call him by his first name. "It's a very dignified way to interact with your professor. It also gives students the confidence to engage in conversations that they may not otherwise attempt."
Ray, whose wife and son live in Japan, was once asked in class what it is like to be so far from his family. "I wasn't going to insult them by saying 'it's fine.' I said that it can be a struggle at times. I think many of the students could relate because they are also away from their families. Those types of honest exchanges help provide a sense of leveling between teacher and student that ultimately makes it easier for us to respect each other as human beings."