Student Mentoring

P1020254I was the beneficiary of a wonderful mentor when I was an undergraduate student.  I was a meandering, under-performing student until I discovered both Anthropology and my mentor.  She not only was an incredible professor but she took a chance on an eager, if misguided student.  My mentor provided me with the opportunity to work in her lab, take on special projects of my own interest, and demonstrate my responsibility by being her teaching assistant.  With her help, I became a better student and learned that I loved teaching and helping other students.  I learned from her example the value of hard work and was supported by the other students who worked in her lab.  She tapped into her professional network to help me advance my career.  To this day she continues to provide me with both support and advice.  Her example guides my mentorship of students here at UNF.

At UNF, our undergraduates are often as capable and talented as the best students anywhere.  I have endeavored to identify students who have the potential to excel and provide them with a transformational educational experience that will make them competitive for graduate work or careers in a variety of fields.  In my years at UNF, I have overseen over twenty Directed Independent Studies (DIS) or Honors Thesis Hours courses (see the list here).  Six of these were for projects funded by Undergraduate Research / Student Mentored Academic Research Team (SMART) Grants or Dean’s TLO Fellowships.  Eight of these students have gone on to graduate school.

In order to “institutionalize” my mentoring efforts, I have established a laboratory research team (similar to those found in the STEM fields), and I meet with my team each week to review their progress and advise them.  During these times we report on our projects, trouble-shoot problems, plan for future actions, and develop “to do” lists – for both them and me.  By including myself in the creation of “to do” lists I model dependability and indicate my willingness to work hard to see their projects succeed.  Setting weekly objectives and attending to their progress allows me to learn about my students’ strengths and weaknesses.  We meet in a group to maximize information transmission, develop a sense of community and group cohesion, and to encourage peer-to-peer learning and support.

I set extremely high standards for my students.  I do not expect perfection (in my students or myself).  However I do expect each of us to work to our fullest potential.  I find that challenges encourage performance, while complacency encourages acceptance of mediocrity.  I model high standards.  I work hard.  I am in my lab early in the morning and I frequently leave after everyone else has.  I maintain my research productivity, publishing frequently and presenting at professional conferences consistently.  My students know that I also invest considerable time and effort into my teaching. My students witness my efforts and the results of those efforts.  Because we meet each week and I monitor their progress and hard work I am likewise confident in my students’ abilities.  They know that I expect their best, I know what they are capable of, and they rise to each occasion.

I encourage my students to develop projects of their own interest and approach those projects in authentic, real-world ways.  I find that when students are curious about a topic, that curiosity encourages them to keep working, even during difficult periods.  Once they have developed their project idea, we plan for them to complete their project in steps that mirror those taken by established professionals.  I encourage them to apply for grants, fellowships, and awards.  If institutional review board oversight is required, we develop an appropriate protocol and apply for approval.  We plan for them to present their research at local and national meetings and publish their results in appropriate venues.  While I have occasionally co-authored with students, I prefer for them to present or publish their work on their own as their work represents their efforts predominantly and single-authorship highlights appropriately recognizes their hard work and diligence.

I regularly applaud my students’ accomplishments and affirm their abilities.  Most of the students in my field (ca. 70%) are female and they often have under-developed confidence in their abilities.  Yet these very same students are often very accomplished and capable students.  This dissonance between high abilities and low self-confidence can kill ambition in a promising student.  I make it a priority to highlight student accomplishments, deconstruct student self-doubt, and empower my students to feel confident about their ability.  By meeting frequently and attending to where (emotionally and intellectually) my students are, I find that hurdles can be managed actively and supportively. My goal is always what is best for the student – both professionally and personally.

I seek out opportunities for my students to network and succeed.  My students have presented at the Society for American Archaeology and American Association of Physical Anthropologists meetings, the Southeast Archaeological Conference, the Florida Anthropological Society conference, and both the UNF SOARS conference and the department of Sociology and Anthropology’s student research symposium.  I also develop opportunities for my students to develop their own professional networks.  For example, one year the Executive Board of the Society for American Archaeology asked me to host a reception for the board on UNF’s campus to meet with local archaeologists.  I was thrilled to do so and made sure that UNF students were invited to the reception to meet with leading archaeologists from around the country.  The executive board was impressed with UNF’s campus, faculty, and facilities.  However they were most impressed by our students.

I work with my students on details.  I recognize that different mentees have different life experiences and thus need different types of support and advising.  Each week during our meetings we spend time on each student’s research.  However, the end of the semester is often when student projects need completing and they need individualized help.  At these times I find myself working with students in front of a computer, in the lab, or in the field trouble-shooting problems and demonstrating the practical details of my field.  These end-of-the-term periods give me another opportunity to tailor my advice and support to each student. These are times when my students learn key skills and experience aspects of the discipline that we do not cover in our regular meetings.

I expect my students to be visible leaders in their cohorts and in public.  I encode public presentations in my expectations for my students.  I require most students who complete a directed independent study with me to give a public presentation.  I offer students in my lab team an opportunity to give short guest lectures in my classes.  My students are full partners in my field work and when local media report on our activities I defer to my students as often as possible.  My students know that I expect them to perform up to their full potential in all their classes and other scholarly endeavors.  I see my students’ independent success as a credit to both of us.

I encourage creativity and critical thinking in my students.  My students know that our lab times are an opportunity to explore ideas and investigate possibilities – even when these ideas may lead us down blind alleys.  We explore their ideas and I model my thought processes.  By working together our thinking is clarified and we both learn from each other.  We end up collaboratively arriving at solutions and action plans that are better than either of us would have developed alone.

I am committed to mentoring students and my students are well-respected within UNF and in the discipline.  For example, one of my students was invited by the director of the Center for Bioarchaeological Research at Arizona State University (the top bioarchaeology research center in the nation) to complete chemical analysis of her human bone samples in the laboratories there.  She earned this invitation by attending the summer bioarchaeology course run by the director and performing in the top of the group of graduate and undergraduate students.  This same student won the best Anthropology student presentation at our Department’s student research symposium.  Three other students of mine won an award at UNF Student Research Symposium for their poster.  One of my lab team students has successfully navigated the Institutional Review Board process (twice, both an original and a revised and expanded research protocol) in furtherance of his honors thesis research.  Another student presented the results of her research at an invited symposium at the national Archaeology meetings and was offered a prestigious internship at the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Colorado for this summer.  Two of my students were jointly awarded the outstanding Anthropology undergraduate award and these same two students completed the first two honors undergraduate theses in the Anthropology program here at UNF.

I am perhaps most pleased to see my students become my colleagues.  While the graduation of excellent students always makes me sad, I am also grateful that my loss of them as my students is more than balanced by my gain in colleagues.  I have an ever expanding network of former students who have gone on to exciting careers – as anthropologists, lawyers, city planners, editors, librarians, teachers, small business owners, and in other fields.  I enjoy watching them encounter and overcome new and different challenges.  Each of them has built upon the skills they developed here at UNF.  These friends and colleagues enrich my life through their successes.