From Maxwell Perspective...
Deborah Pellow is devoted to counseling anthropology undergrads, and will tell you it pays dividends for her and them.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
This article appeared in the fall 2016 print edition of Maxwell Perspective; © 2016 Maxwell School of Syracuse University. To request a copy, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.