Student liaisons: the link between faculty and students

Photo of Julia Kellerbauer

Julia Kellerbauer ’18 sat in the International Relations lounge across from the department’s office watching live CNN coverage of the 2016 presidential race. The sun set behind Skinner Hall and, through the Georgian window, the bare tree branches cast shadows on propaganda posters and the world map hung in the room. The day passed by slowly.

After grading Professor Vincent Ferraro’s “World Politics” quizzes, she waited—to no avail—for callers and visitors. No one visited on that December day. Still, Kellerbauer was ready. She set a sugar-powdered German fruitcake, stollen, on the lounge’s table and craned her neck every so often to spot any possible idler past the open door. She waited for anyone who needed a question answered or wanted someone to chat with. 

Kellerbauer started working for the IR department that fall. As a double major in International Relations and Economics, she felt at ease among the department’s faculty and undergraduates. As an international student, she sought after a space that she could claim as her own. The International Relations office was just the place.

Finding her way far from home

A few years ago, Kellerbauer’s German family needed a lot of convincing to let her study abroad. However, Kellerbauer persisted and within a few months they gave in to her pleading.

After spending some time on campus, the Berlin-native faced the question of what she would study. She debated whether pursuing International Relations as a major and as a career was the right fit. “Only this semester I would say IR is what I want to do and also what I can do, because I was never sure whether I was capable of being an IR major,” she explained.

Her daily conversations with professors as a liaison confirmed that she could speak confidently and passionately about the topic. She felt assured for the first time in her decision and in moving forward.

Constant interaction with the department provided her with a strong sense of community. IR professors passed by the office every so often, but Kellerbauer noted one regular visitor in particular: Professor Calvin Chen never failed to say hello. “I don’t take a class with him, but he comes to talk to me every week. Since the beginning of the semester, we have been talking for two or three hours,” she said.

Linda Chesky Fernandes ’94, Kellerbauer’s supervisor and Department Coordinator, recognized that for hiring purposes liaisons needed to be integrated into the department: “They really have to be majors. I’ve let some students go who have changed their majors. I just believe they need to be connected with the department; they need to be able to talk with students about specific courses [and] professors.”

Call in the buffers

In her role as an IR liaison, Kellerbauer assists Fernandes, as well as prospective majors, current students, and professors. In the process, she has learned how to better aid others.

Fernandes hires a liaison every other semester—she needs the help. “They are the reason that I am able to get work of the department done. There’s a lot of students that come in with a simple question. They are the buffer. They are also the link between faculty and students,” she said. Her two liaisons interact with the majority of student traffic that visits the office on a daily basis. 

“There is no typical day because I’m it. Sometimes you come in with certain expectations that you’re going to get things done and it doesn’t always end up like that, the rhythm of the office is based on faculty needs, so I take my cue from them. You just have to be flexible,” explained Fernandes.  

The alumna has worked with the department for decades. She first landed a job at the Admissions Office back in 1976, and later moved to the IR and Politics department when it was managed under a single office. During all of her time, she experienced the value of working with student employees.

A need for liaisons

A liaison’s tasks vary by day similar to an academic coordinator’s. They serve and take direction from their supervisor. This past semester, Kellerbauer clocked in Thursdays and Fridays. After grading Professor Ferraro’s quizzes, she waited to answer calls and assist students passing by the office. If events came up, she made sure to update the department’s Facebook page. Occasionally, Kellerbauer got the chance to design the posters for talks, including the “Rise of the Right and the Aftermath of the U.S. Elections” that she co-organized with four departments, including IR. “Learning how to support someone best, being able to take yourself back—that’s something I definitely learned here,” she said.

New changes for the next academic year may provide more funding to hire a third liaison. As academic coordinator for Politics and Critical Social Thought Patricia Ware retires, Fernandes plans to oversee and manage the administrative aspects of the IR and Politics offices. While the academic departments would remain independent of the other, Fernandes would be responsible in managing the office tasks for both of them. She thought of hiring an extra pair of hands. “It’s a wonderful use of college funds, especially for international students that can’t work off campus,” she said.

How to apply

Students interested in working as liaisons have approached Fernandes in the past, including Kellerbauer. It’s helpful for interested IR students to have recommendations from professors, opinions that Fernandes values. If no students in the department express their interests, Fernandes relies on faculty to recommend potential hires.

Kellerbauer highlighted that the ideal candidates should be highly aware of their surroundings and be quick to tend to them. “Something that is crucial is a sense of, ok, when should I step down, how to approach someone, how to help people.” She also noted that an eye for detail would also be especially useful when keeping things tidy around the office and lounge. At the end of the day, she commented that the liaison should “have an interest in bringing everyone together and being open minded.”

Fernandes and her liaisons pride themselves in making IR students feel comfortable in their community. “The faculty’s business is educating students. That’s what their business is,” said Fernandes. “My business is to make sure that the student has a good experience in this department. Once you come here, if this is where you want to be and this is the department that you want to major in, you should feel welcomed.” Liaisons help make that happen.