Courtesy counts when connecting with professors. Email a professor to make an appointment and be formal and polite in doing so. If possible indicate what you want to discuss- the fascinating point made in class or the idea not quite understood or the guidelines for the paper due at the end of the month. To some extent too the faculty themselves will send a signal in what they say about their availability. All will indicate office hours and schedules on the syllabus and those parameters should be adhered to.
While it is probably safe to assume that one can drop in during office hours, but making a more formal approach will make an impression that one is respectful and organized. All good things to be.
I have been asked what about the professor that does not seem to care or the adjunct who is not around because of juggling multiple roles. Those are realities too. But in every department there are those who generations of students will know are available and accessible. Upperclassmen can let new students know who those are likely to be in a department.
As a Dean and a professor I tended to find that the students who were silent were often those struggling the most. Savvy and thoughtful faculty have spoken up when a student disappears, asking what is going on. But not all classes lend themselves to that kind of observation and not every school can keep track when there are thousands of students to keep track of. So it is up to the student to know that faculty are allies. We are there to serve, teach, support, nurture and develop the students in front of us as best we can. But the student has to meet us part way. The outcome can be far richer than they could imagine. Connecting with professors can be life changing.
Marcia Y. Cantarella, PhD has held positions at Hunter College, Princeton University, New York University, and Metropolitan College of New York. During her 22 year career as a dean and vice president of student affairs she has enhanced the academic experiences of and outcomes for generations of students. She is the author of I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide