In light of Thanksgiving, take some time to think about the people you appreciate. Who comes to mind? Friends, family and significant others, but perhaps teachers and mentors as well. In high school, these miscellaneous mentors often took the form of athletic coaches or religious leaders, and they were easy to pinpoint because they were so firmly rooted in our everyday lives. But now that we’re in college, who are our mentors?
If we struggle to answer that question, it’s not because there’s a lack of potential mentor-mentee relationships. In fact, there are almost too many underutilized resources because it’s hard to figure out where to begin or who to contact. But as students, we should continually seek out the experiences and insights of those who came before us to tackle the roads that lie ahead of us.
Whether our mentors have a great deal of real-world experience or are just a few years older, they can all provide students with perspectives on academics, career paths and more. In a world where social networking is replacing meaningful face-to-face time, it’s still important to develop one-on-one relationships where we learn to give and receive important advice.
The most obvious potential mentor is a professor, especially if intellectual interests overlap. College juniors David Dunning and Jacob Finkel were able to cultivate their academic experiences through their respective mentors, English professor Jim English and Communication lecturer Alvin Felzenberg.
Though both Dunning and Finkel are Research Peer Advisers for the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships — mentors in their own right — they have gained invaluable support and direction from being mentored.
“The most important thing I’ve learned from [Felzenberg] is that you should always strive for your greatest goal, even if it seems unlikely or impossible,” Finkel wrote in an e-mail.
“Professor English can always offer a clear and insightful perspective on any aspect of my academic life, from picking classes to summer programs to thinking about grad school,” Dunning wrote.
Peer mentors, like those in the CURF program, are just as accessible as professors. For example, female freshmen and transfer students have a unique opportunity to be mentored by upperclassmen women through the Penn Women’s Mentorship Project.
“The mentors are there to ease the anxiety the freshmen and transfer students might feel,” Penn Women’s Center graduate intern and second-year masters of social work student Ivone Falk said, adding that they are essential in pointing out resources around campus that the mentees might never find independently.
And of course, a preprofessional school like Penn also offers key career-related mentorships. According to Career Services Associate Director Claire Klieger, LinkedIn might be a popular way for people to connect with tens of thousands of Penn alumni, but there’s still another resource called the Penn Alumni Career Network. PACNet is made up of more than 2,000 alumni who have purposely offered to be mentors.
Though the resource requires constant promotion, Klieger explained that the fact that the alumni are volunteers ensures that they will be more than willing to talk to students, especially undergraduates who might be intimidated by approaching alumni.
In addition to learning about their mentors’ personal experiences, mentees can learn about industry trends and outside resources such as major trade magazines, organizations or conferences, she said.
Klieger also mentioned the Graduate/Undergraduate Mentoring Program as another useful but underutilized resource, saying, “There are always more graduates signed up than undergraduates using it,” but the volunteers are readily available to answer questions and provide guidance.
Thanks to this obvious wealth of opportunities to be mentored, there’s no excuse for us to struggle alone. So, here’s another thinking exercise for the holiday: Who can you ask to be your mentor? It’s just a matter of reaching out — he or she is out there, ready to give.
Sarah Ryu is a College junior from Harrington Park, N.J. Her e-mail address is ryu@theDP.com. Ryu’s Clues appears on alternate Tuesdays.Comments powered by Disqus
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