Dr. Richard O’Dell has developed a habit of attending students’ athletic events and photographing them.
He then uses the photos as a way to connect with his students.
“It makes me more involved with the students, allowing me to get closer to that student,” said O’Dell, a professor of special education.
“It allows me to see the student more as a person than someone that I dictate notes to and spits them back to me,” O’Dell said. He thinks that this closer connection with his students translates into a better learning environment in the classroom.
“I think it makes the classroom more relaxed and more collegiate. It is no longer one dimensional because our relationship goes beyond the classroom,” O’Dell said.
One of the athletes O’Dell has photographed said she agreed with O’Dell’s philosophy.
“(O’Dell) is probably one of the best professors I’ve ever had,” senior softball player Amber Rapose said.
“We know him as Dr. Dad because he cares about you as a student and as a person, and as a professor he pours his heart out to you,” Rapose said.
“It is hard to find a professor that treats you like a peer and doesn’t judge you by your title. The two letters in front of his name don’t seem to matter to him,” Rapose said.
The way O’Dell tries to get to know his athletes is very impressive to Rapose.
“He always tries to go and watch our games. The students find it cool that he takes the time out of his busy day to get to know you on and off the field,” Rapose said.
“It is really nice to know that someone cares about you as a person too,” Rapose said.
O’Dell started photography in high school and purchased his first 35 millimeter camera while he was in the Coast Guard.
O’Dell took a photography course in college as his interest in photography grew.
Sports photography came into the picture for O’Dell when his kids began to play high school sports, as he wanted to document their achievements.
O’Dell started his sports photography at Mercyhurst for a different reason.
“It’s just a great way to get out of the office, and after a little bit it got to be a great way to connect with students,” O’Dell said.
With this hobby, O’Dell cites many instances where he has become a great deal closer to his students but also credits the size of Mercyhurst as a major factor in creating these relationships
“The college is small enough that you get to know students and really develop long-term relationships with them. Before I came here, I was a school psychologist and had 300 or so students I dealt with all the time but at Mercyhurst it is the ideal size to really develop relationships,” O’Dell said.
Despite O’Dell’s desire to have a closer relationship with his students he says that he does not advocate this type of relationship with his students to his fellow faculty. He pointws out that many faculty do make similar efforts.
“At many of the athletic events especially the hockey games you can see normally 12 professors at the games. It just helps to bring balance to the athlete’s lives to know that their professors do care about what they do,” O’Dell said.
He admits that this connection does give him much in return.
“Parents of graduates coming to visit and thank me really gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling,” O’Dell said.