Mentorship and Connection

This semester as I am a part of the Connected Courses series at the international level as well as our group at Virginia Tech, best practices and transformative education has been on my mind even more. Additionally, I frequently read Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle. Today on Inside Higher Ed this was posted, which then led to this and this. I am sure I saw the studies findings when they were first published last spring but it did not really resonate with me until today. This is due in part to the conversation we had this week within our group at Tech.

These articles and findings discuss what is important for students to be engaged in the workplace post-graduation. What Gallup found was that students who had support and experiential learning had the most engagement in the workplace. Support can be shown through having a professor who made them excited about learning; professors caring about the student as a person; and a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams. Experiential was shown by working on a project that took a semester or more to complete; an internship or job that allowed students to apply what they were learning; and being extremely active in extracurricular activities and organizations while attending the college. Looking back, I believe I had all six experiences, which I am eternally grateful for.

We had been discussing projects for students and how the most beneficial ones may not be the short-term projects that we frequently see and assign in classes. How might undergraduate research or undergraduate theses actually benefit students in the long-term?

Then again, when we have 80-500 students in a class at a time, how do we show that we care about each student individually? Especially when they do not seek us out? This is something as someone fairly new to teaching is still grappling with.

Overall, how do we work towards being able to provide these sorts of transformative educational experiences for all students, not just the 3% that said they had all six experiences during their undergraduate career that led to support and experiential and deep learning?

3 Responses to Mentorship and Connection

  • Amanda Haydon says:

    This is awesome! I’m so glad that you incorporated the Galllup articles into your post. I read this article when it first came out and, in many ways, it validated many of my own personal experiences and observations of the power of mentorship and connection with students.

    I currently advise over 1400 students at the institution I work for, and I won’t lie that it is challenging to reach out to all of them. But, the most important thing is for you to let them know that you care and advocate on their behalf. For example, every time I sit down with a student, my first question to them is always “how are you doing?” You would be surprised by some of the reactions that I get; it’s like a professional staff person has never taken the time to ask how they are doing. This, for me, has been the most important tool to initiating bonds with my students. It let’s them know that whatever they have come into my office to talk to me about, that first and foremost I care about their life.

    The second most important thing that I do is say “hi” or wave at students who I know that I’ve met. Sometimes they give me crazy looks, but over time, they eventually wave back. I have had students tell me that this small gesture has been the dividing line between them seeking my advice or just coming in to say hi and them staying away from our office.

    I know they may seem small, but they make a world of difference.

    In terms of your last questions, I too think about this quite a bit. I don’t know if this is necessarily an answer that you are looking for, but I think a starting point towards this would be realizing that to be impactful, especially in the lives of students, you have to be passionate. I think too often we see teachers become discouraged and “check out”. I believe that if you find yourself “checking out” then you need to reevaluate and make a change. Students feed off of the energy that is presented to them in the classroom. They can tell if you care about their educational development or not. So care, and let them know that you care, and I guarantee you will see a change, not only in them, but in yourself.

  • laven says:

    Thanks for your response! I love the “how are you doing” question for students. It is such a little thing, but I know I am not always the best at doing that when sitting down with students one-on-one.

    I also agree that to be impactful we have to be passionate. Students have said that my passion and energy comes through, even in online classes, though to be honest, I’m not sure how I do that and how to replicate it. I just hope to maintain that passion and energy for all the students and all the courses. I’m not sure that there are any formal answers to some of these questions, rather ones we will continue to ask and grapple with throughout our careers.

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