Friday, January 13, 2012

A tribute to good mentors

In December, I graduated with a master's degree in Instructional Design from Brigham Young University.  In many ways it was anticlimactic--I immediately started a doctoral program, I still have years of school ahead of me, and my thesis was approved nearly a month before I was actually awarded the degree.  Still, it was a long road and it feels good to be a little closer to being "finished" (if we ever really are).  By nature, I am a fairly reflective person, but especially at transitional times like beginnings and endings.  So, not surprisingly, I have spent a fair amount of time thinking back over the last few years and my experiences.  In doing so, I have been reminded of how much I owe to good mentors.  It is always risky to thank individual people because of the chance that someone is left off the list; however, I'll do it here for two reasons.  First, without the support of those I'll list here, I would never have finished, let alone started a graduate program.  Second, because there is a good chance that no one will ever read this, the chances of anyone being offended by being left off the list are small.

First, I am grateful to mentors from my undergraduate experience who nurtured my passion for teaching and learning, and who never quit encouraging me to consider a career in higher education.  My experience with Pat, Gary, and Stefinee in the now defunct Freshman Academy program was the single most influential thing that happened to me as an undergraduate student.  I learned more sitting in their offices listening to and observing their meetings, than any course could have ever taught me.  I learned what good thinkers read, what kinds of questions they ask, and how they interact with others in ways that open the door for change and innovation.  It was during those afternoon meetings and early morning chats that the scholarship seed was planted for me.  And, without my experience in the Freshman Academy program, I would probably never have been hired to come back and work full-time at BYU (which then opened the door to graduate school much wider for me).

Once I began graduate studies my path was somewhat unique in that I was still working full-time.  This would not have been possible without a supportive work supervisor.  Pat (yes, the same one as above) was not only accommodating in allowing me to adjust my work schedule to fit around classes and research meetings, but has served in many ways as a 4th member of my graduate committee, engaging me in conversations about my ideas, pointing me in the direction of scholarship relevant to my interests, and providing much-needed and well-timed feedback.  This last summer when I was conceptualizing and implementing my master's project, she not only gave me generous amounts of time to do my work, but nudged and encouraged me to do more than I thought I could.  As a result, my finished project was much better than it ever would have been otherwise.

If you had asked me, ten years ago, what I would be doing when I turned 30, working in higher education wouldn't have been on the list of my 50 best guesses.  Often, we need others to help us identify our latent passions, broker opportunities for us to grow, and encourage us when we don't believe in ourselves.  My friend Stefinee has been that person for me.  I distinctly remember the first time I met her as an undergraduate student.  For some reason I had been invited to attend a meeting to discuss a research project she was working on with Pat.  She must have sensed that I felt incredibly out of place and out of my league because she made it a point of sitting next to me in the conference room (interestingly enough, the very same conference room that she and I were in when I defended my master's thesis about seven years later), asking me questions about myself, and including me in the conversation throughout the meeting.  Since then, on more occasions than I can count, she has played that same role--helping me feel comfortable when I wanted to run, nudging me to stretch myself, and giving me access to conversations I wouldn't have been a part of otherwise.

Of course, there are others; however, none who have played as significant a role as these good friends, mentors, and colleagues.  So, to them (as well as the others)--thank you!

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