Involve me and I learn
Feb. 26, 2014
The first person to give me a job that wasn’t in food service and paid more than minimum wage took a chance on me. She interviewed me by phone while I was still in South Dakota where my husband was stationed and she was in Lansing. I didn’t have my college degree yet (in fact, that’s why I was coming back to the Lansing area—to finish at MSU). I didn’t have any real experience that translated to the data entry job for a U.S. senator’s local office, but she still took a chance.
She gave me the job and I gave it my all in return. I hoped to prove to her every day she made a good choice and I wanted to learn from her. I was young and inexperienced and she was running the place with intelligence, skill and enthusiasm. I watched, I listened, I learned. She let me try new things and challenged me. She listened, she advised, she taught. In short, she was my mentor. She gave me my start in the professional world and I will always be extremely grateful that our paths crossed.
Our paths still cross since we both work at MSU now. She took a job here when the senator retired while I moved on to another congressional office. She saw a position open up in the university communications office and thought it would be a good fit for me and encouraged me to apply. She was still mentoring long after her responsibility to do so was over. She was right, as usual, and it was a perfect fit for me.
Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
That’s really mentoring in a nutshell. Mentoring gives someone the opportunity to see what life and work is really like. It gives young people an experienced person to learn from as they tackle real things, not just things in a book. It gave me a safety net—someone who not only challenged me, but was there to catch me when I needed help. Learning by doing is great. Learning by doing with a mentor to help is even better.
Chelsea Lucas, who will be graduating in May with a double major in theatre and media and information, found her fit in costume design after her early experiences as a freshman. She says that from day one in the program, she was exposed to mentorship from the staff and it helped her find her role. Watch her video and read her STUDENT VIEW: Finding Her Role, to learn more about her experiences.
William Taylor, an MSU AgBioResearch scientist and a University Distinguished Professor of global fisheries systems believes strongly in mentoring. He says that more than any awards or titles that he has received, the thing he is most proud of is being a mentor. In fact, he feels so strongly about the value of mentoring that with the help of two former MSU students, he’s written a book about it. Read his FACULTY VOICE: Mentoring Helps Others Reach Their Dreams, to learn more about him.
Taylor also says that mentoring is not a one-way street. He believes mentors learn just as much from their mentees. I couldn’t agree more.
I’ve never forgotten what it was like to be young, nervous and inexperienced. I’ve never forgotten what it was like to have someone take me under their wing and I’ve tried to do the same now that I’m the experienced professional.
Through the years and in all my jobs, I’ve been lucky to work with student interns. I hope that I’ve been able to guide them and challenge them and give them tools they can use in the world. They’ve gone on to do some pretty great things—Marshall scholars, elected officials, being chosen to reenact the Freedom Ride, become working journalists and PR professionals and even work with me in the MSU communication office after graduation. Just recently I was able to give a job reference for a former intern and when she got the job, I was as proud as if she was my own daughter.
As Taylor points out, I learn from them just as much as they learn from me. They bring fresh ideas, new perspectives and energy. They remind me to appreciate every day and tackle things that seem scary. They make me laugh. They work hard and throw themselves into everything they do. They impress me with their knowledge. They inspire me with their determination. They make me realize this world is going to be OK when their generation takes the helm.
Spartans take their mentoring seriously. In my office, we’re not faculty. We’re not offering a class and we’re not giving grades. But we all feel that it’s still our job to teach—to give our students a gratifying experience that will make them better workers and better citizens. My hope is that when they get out there in the world as professionals, that maybe they’ll remember my coworkers and me. Maybe they’ll remember something we taught them and it helps them be successful. Maybe they’ll look around and see someone else in need of some guidance and reach out and be a mentor. Trust me, it’s worth the effort.
Information for employers about MSU internships can be found on the Career Services Network website.
Photo: Tyrone Rooney, assistant professor of geological sciences, (center) has his students, Charlotte Lee (left) and Brittany Miniard (right), get hands-on experience with rock samples in his petrology lab. Photo by Kurt Stepnitz