By: Ilan Swartz-Brownstein  | 

A Salute to Excellence in Academic Advising: Peter Knothe Leaves

Several weeks ago, Yeshiva College Academic Advisor Peter Knothe left his position at YU and took a position closer to his home in northern Westchester County. Looking back on the impact Knothe made on YU, both students and faculty agree that YU has lost more than just another staff member.

Knothe was no ordinary advisor. As he explains it, he chose the field of academic advising “because I love working with students and really relate to the challenges they face.” This determination to help students was clear from the very beginning of Knothe’s arrival at YU. Shortly after Knothe joined the YU staff in the fall of 2009, the Advising Director resigned. Knothe essentially took over and ran the advising center only after a couple months into his new position. “I was left to fend for myself,” Knothe remembers. However, thanks to an extremely helpful and supportive staff in the Dean’s office, and other academic support faculty, Knothe felt very welcome.

Throughout his time at YU, Knothe was recognized as a person who went far beyond simply assisting students with arranging their schedules and picking classes. Rather, Knothe was notorious for the care and consideration he showed towards the students he worked with. Knothe explains that his mission was “doing anything I could to help YU students ease their stress.”  Dean Frederic Sugarman who arrived at YU around the same time as Knothe, worked closely with him and can testify to Knothe’s unconditional dedication to his job. “Peter was the advisor that had more compassion than anyone else on campus,” says Sugarman. Knothe saw his job of guiding students as a vital part of their academic growth and path to success. “I know that advisors can have as much of a positive impact on a student’s personal development and education as their best teachers.” It was this mindset that drove Knothe to make sure he created that positive impact.

As an academic advisor, Knothe often found himself in situations where students would not only explain to him their academic problems, but also their personal problems that were affecting their school work and grades. “There were many instances of students sharing with me some very personal and sometimes even traumatic situations in their lives,” remembers Knothe. Even though he usually recommended students with personal struggles to the counseling center to seek proper help, Knothe would still meet with them as much as possible to monitor their daily or weekly progress. With Knothe’s care for students, he built many strong relationships, and students genuinely valued his opinion and went to him with an academic issue they were having. As Knothe explains, “The most rewarding aspect of my job was gaining the trust of students and helping them.”

Knothe’s commitment to student’s success was evident in many ways. When there were students who were particularly struggling with their major or class load, Knothe wouldn’t just give them the normal 20 minute appointment. Rather, Knothe would sit down with these students for an hour and twenty minutes and thoroughly help them work through whatever issues they were having. There was often a line of students, drawn towards his sensitivity, waiting to see him. “He had a following,” explains Sugarman. “That was Peter.”

Nathaniel Ribner, a senior who had a close connection with Knothe, remembers how Knothe would drop everything to help him. “Whenever I had an issue and would pop my head into his office, even if it was his lunch break, he would interrupt in order to help me at the moment.  And he would do it with a smile and a joke,” Ribner says.

Knothe would constantly give up of his own time to help students. Junior Binyomin Barman remembers how “he cared about the students that walked in. He didn't work on a time clock. He would come in early and see students and stay after hours, unpaid, just to help us out.” Knothe felt that this readiness to give up of himself was a necessary part to being a successful and supportive academic advisor. He explains his mission as an academic advisor was “to do all that was within my power to help students.” Even if it meant putting in more time, energy and effort than he had to, or was paid to do, Knothe was ready and willing.

Being an academic, and someone who was passionate about reading, literature and his ideas, Knothe had a strong ability to discuss student’s academic goals, and understand their course of study. He also recognizes that his healthy sense of humor was an attribute which enabled him to connect and relate to the students he worked with. Additionally, his in depth knowledge of YU gave him the capability to give students personalized and comprehensive guidance. “He knew everything about YU. His insights and knowledge of the classes and the professors that taught them, were amazing,” remembers Barman.

One of Knothe’s many strengths was to be able deal with students who were going through all types academic difficulties. Whether a student was engaged or recently married and was having a hard time academically, or a if student was pressured to choose a certain major by their parents, or a major wasn’t what a student expected it to be, Knothe was ready to work with them to set them on a path to success. He also dealt with the transfer students from different colleges and students coming to YU from Yeshivas in Israel, helping them become comfortable with the intense YU curriculum. Even after a student walked out of his office, Knothe would follow up with the student to see how they were doing.

Beyond his capacity to connect with students on an academic level, Knothe was able to recognize on how important Judaism was to YU students. He respected students’ commitment to morning learning and the role which Torah played in students’ lives. He was even able to pick up on some of the nuances of the various yeshivas in Israel. Within his ten years at YU “he came to understand that if a guy was from KBY, he had a certain hashkafa” remembers Sugarman.

Knothe’s recent to decision to leave YU and take a position at a different college was not based on salary or a desire to leave YU. Rather, Knothe decided that the close-to-an-hour commute to YU everyday was too much. “Almost twenty years coming and going to different jobs in NYC had become a real grind,” he explains. Knothe recently joined Manhattanville College, in Purchase, NY, where he is also an Academic Advisor. “I am home in twenty minutes now,” says Knothe.

Fortunately, just before Knothe left, YU hired a new Academic Advisor: Sara Wallshein, who has quickly grown to become an extremely helpful and insightful academic advisor as well. Although Knothe’s specific way of working with students may not be able be replaced, YU students will continue to be served and supported by the talented advising crew.

Knothe wanted his exit from YU to be a quiet one. However, his colleagues wanted to let him know how much he meant to them.“The outpouring of affection and gratitude I received from colleagues and the few students I was brave enough to tell was almost embarrassing to me.” Knothe exclaims. “I still feel incredibly grateful!” Knothe recently called Sugarman to tell him that “he misses YU greatly”. Students and faculty agree that the feeling goes both ways. He was special,” says Sugarman.