The relationship between Ithaca College professors and students often begins and ends in the classroom, but some professors, such as Katie Marks, are known for fostering exceptionally enriching relationships that extend not only into the broader academic setting, but outside academics altogether.
Marks, assistant professor in the writing department, graduated from the college in 1998 with a degree in planned studies, a program where students are able to create their own academic track. She then went on to Goucher College where she received her master’s degree in creative nonfiction in 2005.
Marks is a recent recipient of the Student Government Association Exemplary Academic Advisor award, which is given to an individual who has made a positive impact through his or her advising. Marks’ advisee, sophomore Emma Sheinbaum, nominated her for the award.
“From the start, she has been the most encouraging, supportive and passionate professor. I not only consider her a professor and adviser, but a writing mentor,” Sheinbaum said via email. “She is not only attentive to students’ work, progress and potential as writers, but also to their well-being.”
Marks now teaches Personal Essay, as well as other creative writing courses, but said Personal Essay has been her favorite to teach at the college.
Junior Kim Nicolas has been in three writing classes taught by Marks, and through her experiences with Marks, she said she found a new attitude toward writing.
“I didn’t enjoy writing very much when I initially came to IC because it was always such a passionless chore devoid of creativity in my high school,” Nicolas said via email. “In Katie’s classes, I learned that writing can be a really amazing tool for self-discovery and exploration, as well as a creative way of processing thoughts, memories and information.”
While she said she had always wanted to have a profession where she worked with people, Marks said she credits her inspiration to return to the college as a writing professor to the experience she had during her junior year when she took Personal Essay with Mary Beth O’Connor, assistant professor of writing.
Marks said that before her experience in class with O’Connor, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to teach.
“The way Mary Beth approached the class changed everything for me and made me believe that maybe I could be a professor,” Marks said. “She was so thoughtful and kind and steady. It was more like she entered into a conversation with us about writing, like she was guiding and facilitating and synthesizing versus lecturing.”
Marks’ office in Harold F. And Lois M. Smiddy Hall is now adjacent to O’Connor’s.
Marks said she enjoys many aspects of her job at the college, and being able to get to know someone through his or her writing is rewarding.
“That’s one of the best things about writing and the arts in general, is that unique perspective that you get access to, the opportunity to see things from another vantage point, and as a professor I get to see that from up to 56 different perspectives a semester,” Marks said. “Seeing the ways that people grow and being a part of that growth is exciting.”
As an adviser, Marks works one-on-one with students to help them solve problems. She also credits her genuine style and caring attitudes in being able to form positive and enriching relationships with both her students and advisees.
“Seeing them as people and then working together to cultivate this relationship, I think being a person who cares and who likes my students and is interested in them, that creates a lot of space for a successful student-professor, student-adviser kind of relationship,” Marks said.
Nicolas said although she does not currently have a class with her, Marks is still willing to meet with her and help her with her future at the college. Nicolas, who said she was unhappy with her major, sought Marks’ guidance and recently, Nicolas met with Marks to make a decision to switch to planned studies.
“At the end of our meeting I decided to go forward with developing a plan, and I was able to submit my plan before the fast-approaching deadline a week or two later,” Nicolas said. “If it weren’t for Katie, I wouldn’t even know that planned studies was an option, and I would have been stuck in a major I didn’t like.”
Marks said that from a young age, she knew she wanted to work with people, and she enjoys that she is able to continue to learn from students she encounters every day.
“I’ve always known that I wanted to work with people and their ideas, to work with people and their minds, to help people, to be involved in that process,” Marks said. “It’s been tremendously transformative to me as a person.”
Nicolas, whose academic path has been changed through her work with Marks, said she appreciated and benefitted from the time that Marks has spent with her.
“I really value the hours she’s spent with me listening to me throwing out ideas and giving me feedback because besides helping to develop my writing, I’ve discovered that I learn best through conversation, and she essentially accommodated my optimal learning style,” Nicolas said.