The importance of mentors

By Diana Blackman- Director, Discernment & Discourse in Dedman College

I often give my students “helpful hints” for making the most of their time at SMU. Do they pay attention to me, or are these comments more of my blahblahblah that just elicits nods and smiles? I’m sure I’ll never know.

The other day my helpful tip was that, for the duration of their years at SMU, they read The New York Times Sunday edition on a weekly basis. No need to read it every day—the Sunday Times will take you the week to read anyway. And though I personally enjoy the paper version, I reminded students that they could access the newspaper for free through the Central University Library’s website. As a concession I offered that, if this advice sounded too much like that one would expect from the typical “liberal member of an English department,” then they could counterbalance this effort by perusing The Wall Street Journal as well.

Dang, that was good advice if I do say so myself! Just this morning I was reading the Times and came across an op-ed piece, “It Takes a Mentor,” by Thomas L. Friedman, whom some students might know as the guy who wrote The World is Flat.” I’m not always a Friedman fan, but this article is terrific. I’m taking a copy to my students tomorrow.

Friedman’s article concerns some recent research that pointed to two factors that seem to turn college or technical school students into happy, fulfilled members of the work world once they graduate. One factor is that students participate in some kind of internship related to their field of choice. This makes sense, and I always encourage my students to take internship-type positions in the summer, even if some other random (as the students would say) job would pay more.

The other factor Friedman mentions is one near and dear to my heart, and it’s why I decided to write in to The Daily Campus about his article: the importance of mentors. Friedman quotes the individual in charge of this research, who found that students who had a professor or professors “who cared about them as a person—or had a mentor who encouraged their goals and dreams…were twice as likely to be engaged with their work and thriving in their overall well-being.” That only 22 perfect of polled college grads indicated having a mentor is disappointing to Friedman, and it is to me as well.

A mentor might be your D & D instructor; it might be your advisor; it could be a professor in a course in your major—someone who really inspires you. One thing is certain: students must have their eyes open for such individuals, and they must be open to sharing enough of themselves to foster such connections. I know the University is committed to encouraging such mentorship—that is clear in the new Faculty-in-Residence program, which aims to promote interaction between faculty and students in their early years at SMU.

I had the good fortune to have benefitted from several mentors when I was a student at SMU, and in my 20 years of teaching, I’d like to think that I too have mentored and been, for a student or two, the one invested enough to motivate and make the kind of impactful difference of which Friedman speaks.

So, read the Times if you like—or ignore that advice– but please, please do seek out a mentor here at SMU. It’ll make your time here more fulfilling and meaningful, and apparently the positive impact will go with you when you enter the big, wide world.

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