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Friendly Advice

Deborah Pellow is devoted to counseling anthropology undergrads, and will tell you it pays dividends for her and them.

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Advisor of the Year Deborah Pellow (right) offers advice to senior Tiffany Pau, an architecture major also mi-noring in anthropology.

Deborah Pellow recalls attending only one wedding of a former undergraduate student. She’d counseled that student to do study-abroad in Zimbabwe. After graduating, the student did a stint with Teach For America, became a teacher, and stayed in touch. When she married, the couple gave their guests tree seedlings. Pellow planted that seedling in her yard; it is taller now than she. “I remember her whenever I look at it,” Pellow says.

That relationship reflects the best of faculty advising, says Pellow, professor and undergraduate director in the Department of Anthropology. In recognition of three decades advising undergraduates, Pellow was named 2016 Faculty Advisor of the Year by SU’s College of Arts and Sciences and Maxwell. 

Pellow reckons she spends about two weeks each semester on undergraduate advising, meeting with all 90 anthropology majors to discuss their schedule for the following semester. Some meetings last just a few minutes as Pellow signs off on students’ plans. Other conversations last longer, as students seek Pellow’s career guidance, test research ideas, or confide in her about personal challenges.

Sitting in her bright Eggers Hall office, surrounded by photos, artwork, and treasures from her travels, Pellow suddenly jumps up to find a picture of former students. She remembers the year the class went on a field trip and could name most of the students. A few minutes later, she digs through a file cabinet for a letter a student sent her while doing research abroad.

“I get to know students I wouldn’t know,” she says. “I have an overview my colleagues don’t because students have to come see me. It’s great to enjoy their successes and help make them successful.”

She frequently calls other departments to clarify rules about required courses and prerequisites, maybe helping to negotiate a compromise. “I can’t get them out of the requirements, but I can run interference,” Pellow says. “It’s second nature to me, but a lot of students don’t know how to advocate for themselves.” 

“I get to know students I wouldn’t know. . . . It’s great to enjoy their successes and help make them successful.”
— Deborah Pellow

Sometimes Pellow, a faculty member since 1978,  draws on her rather large network. When she learned one of her students sought a career in forensics, she helped the student find the ideal summer internship, e-mailing a former PhD student who works in that field. She helped another student go to Australia to research her senior thesis on waterfront cities. “I know an architect there, so I wrote to him,” she says. “These are the little things you do that can make a difference. We make connections.”

She’s full of stories about students who go on to graduate school, or the Peace Corps, or other laudable fates. Pellow cheers their successes, like the former student she heard speak at an anthropology conference. “That’s just a delight to see an undergraduate I know go through the ranks and evolve into a professional,” she says.

She especially enjoys nominating students as class marshals and for awards. “It’s so much fun,” she says. “It’s a feather in their cap and a feather in our cap.”

Some students seek her out for her expertise in West African nations. (She is currently researching the Dagombas, an ethnic group in northern Ghana.) Other times, student interactions teach her something new. She recently advised an honors student who went on an archaeological dig as part of her research on the impact of the Roman Empire in northern England.

“I’m not an archaeologist and I don’t know anything about the archaeology of northern England,” Pellow says. “But it’s a nice way to get to know students and stretch yourself.”

And that student whose wedding she attended maintains a special place in Pellow’s heart. “She continues to say I was a role model to her,” Pellow says. “That’s a real compliment.”

— Renée K. Gadoua

This article appeared in the fall 2016 print edition of Maxwell Perspective; © 2016 Maxwell School of Syracuse University. To request a copy, e-mail dlcooke@maxwell.syr.edu.