As an instructor, you play an influential role in your students’ lives. They depend on you to provide knowledge and training that’s relevant to their futures. Additionally, some of them look up to you as a professional role model. Consequently, they may ask you for advice about setting and pursuing their own academic goals.

What practical steps can you take to inspire and encourage students who are setting out to achieve their goals and dreams? We recently asked the winners of Questia’s Most Valuable Professors (MVP) Contest and CengageBrain’s America’s Greatest Professors Award (GPA): How do you encourage students to pursue their academic and professional goals? These winners, who were nominated for the award by students, describe some of the things they do and say to help students reach forward towards personal and professional success. Below, we’ve shared three of their responses.

Here’s another way you can support and encourage students as they strive towards academic achievement: Your students can apply for scholarships in the names of these instructors—and others—until March 16, 2015! See below for information on how your students can apply for the Questia MVP Scholarship and the CengageBrain GPA Scholarship.


Three Instructors Share How They Encourage Students to Pursue Their Academic Goals

Many of our students have to balance competing goals and as their instructor and sometimes as their academic advisor, I encourage them to prioritize the work for the class. I try to demonstrate the value and relevance of the course to their current and future academic and professional goals.

—CengageBrain GPA winner Lakshmi Nagarajan-Iyer, Accounting, Business and Legal Studies, Middlesex County College (Edison, New Jersey)


One thing I do to encourage students in their pursuit of their academic goals is to get to know them personally, what motivates them, and understand how they define success. There are many paths to success and many different definitions of success. For some students, that’s getting into a top graduate program; for others, it’s securing a relatively stable job upon graduation. Successful academic programs must be structured differently for different students, or at least allow the students the flexibility to realize different goals. But if you don’t get to know your students, you don’t know what their goals are or how they understand success. Without that knowledge, it’s impossible to provide the best direction or motivation in order to help them be successful.

— Questia MVP winner Chris W. Surprenant, Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Director of the Tocqueville Project in Law, Liberty, and Morality, University of New Orleans (New Orleans, Louisiana)


To put it proverbially (I am a folklorist after all): the proof is in the pudding. I haven’t met many people who love their work as much as I do, and I got here simply by never letting go of what I know I love doing, even in the face of opposition. I was told many, many times that a degree in Folklore Studies was hardly the best route to a job, and I’ve seen other faculty members caution students against pursuing a difficult degree or an education that isn’t guaranteed to result in employment. While that cautionary advice does have its place (especially for students who aren’t sure yet what they want to study), if someone has found their passion, then I’m here to champion them all the way. It can be scary to dedicate time and money to further education, but if it allows you to earn the credentials to do what’s in your heart, then it’s worth it.

Often, students simply aren’t aware of the resources available to them to help them pursue their passions. The resources at a university can be very spread out, and individual professors often aren’t aware of the opportunities out there for their students. Taking the time to learn how to help students beyond our own classes is one of the best things we as faculty members can do for them (even if it’s just knowing the name and email address of other potentially helpful people).

—Questia MVP winner Lynne S. McNeill, PhD, English Department, Utah State University (Logan, Utah)


Encourage Your Students to Apply for the MVP and GPA Scholarships!

Our partners at Questia and CengageBrain are now accepting student applications for thirty academic scholarships for the 2015 fall semester. College students from across the country nominated great professors they believed deserved the title of “Most Valuable Professor” (MVP) or the “Greatest Professor Award” (GPA). (Comments from three of these instructors appear above!) For the grand prize, Questia and CengageBrain pledged to establish five $500 scholarships in each of the six winning professors’ names. Those six winners have earned the honor of choosing the scholarship criteria and selecting the scholarship recipients.

To learn more about these scholarships, read our previous post: 3 Quick Tips and 30 New Scholarships for College Students. Share the post with your students! Note: Applications for these scholarships are due by March 16, 2015, so encourage your students to enter today!


In what ways do you encourage students to pursue their academic goals? Share your tips and strategies in the comments.