One of my hardest and most rewarding college experiences was building relationships with college faculty and staff members who didn't tear down my faith—and with some who even helped reinforce the values and beliefs that were central to my spiritual identity. I found that developing these mentoring relationships was central to my overall satisfaction and success in college.
But how did I find these mentors? Let me share two examples of individuals who have been instrumental in my own development to help you consider who you can reach out to on your own campus to begin forming strong mentoring relationships.
Out-of-class faculty connections
During my freshman year I learned quickly that in order to better understand my course material, I needed to attend my professors' "office hours"—a scheduled block of time they set aside to meet with students outside of class to answer questions and go over lecture material.
That term I was taking an especially hard course on media literacy as part of my major and needed to make sure I correctly understood what was being taught in class. When I reached my professor's office, I signed my name on the list of appointments and waited for my turn, not sure what to expect.
Ten minutes later I was sitting in a 1970s plaid armchair across from a very energetic old professor who let me know I could just call him "Doc." My uncertainty immediately started to fade away as we talked about the course lectures, the upcoming midterm and the communication studies program I was in.
Over the weeks, I would regularly visit Doc's office to discuss interesting things I observed in mass media that connected back to the class and also to share personal stories about my transition to college and what I wanted to do with my life.
Even though Doc's political and religious background were almost entirely opposite to my own (which he openly shared without flaunting his own views), he never made me feel inferior or wrong for being a woman of faith and conviction. In fact, he even complimented the discipline and diligence he observed in my studies, commenting that my positive work ethic "must be connected to your religious practices."
As the years passed in college, I stayed in touch with Doc, who later agreed to serve as my faculty adviser for my senior honors thesis. The relationship I had built in those first few weeks of college proved to be one of the strongest and most lasting connections I made in my four years on campus, and it all started because I was willing to attend his office hours.
Doc taught me about more than just media literacy. He proved to me that two people could hold opposing viewpoints and still treat each other with personal and professional respect, while forming a strong mentoring relationship.
Learning from a resident director
Going into my sophomore year, I started getting more involved in student leadership in my residential community. That's where I met Dawn (not her real name), a resident director (RD) who was in charge of the building complex I lived in.
Dawn lived on campus not far from my own dorm room, and she would regularly have her student staff over for ice cream socials and movie nights. I began noticing that these events were never scheduled on Friday nights or Saturdays, and I asked her about her religious background one day after our Hall Council meeting. Dawn shared that she was raised Jewish and still attended Shabbat services at the local synagogue. She then asked me about my faith.
This conversation was one of the first times I remember being open and comfortable talking about my religious beliefs and practices with someone who was genuinely interested in getting to know me for who I am and not who they wanted me to become.
A few months later, I talked to Dawn about my interest in serving as a resident assistant (RA) the following year and how I was concerned about getting time off for Sabbath observance. Being able to connect with Dawn—a fellow Sabbath-keeper—as an ally and mentor helped me understand the challenges I would face if I were to become an RA.
With Dawn's encouragement, I decided to apply for the RA position and got it! She even helped coach me in how to talk about my Sabbath observance to other professionals and student staff members in the department in a way that showed respect and concern for their needs as well as my own. Learning how to have these conversations has continued to help me know how to properly share my religious convictions and observances with employers and colleagues.
Seeking out mentors on campus
While everyone finds mentors in slightly different ways, there are a few principles that can help most everyone. When seeking out mentors on campus, start by considering what kind of relationship you want to build. Do you want to connect with someone in a field you are interested in pursuing to learn more? Or maybe you don't know what you want to study yet, so you need some guidance discovering what you're passionate about.
By understanding what you are seeking to learn, you are better able to identify people who could possibly coach you in a specific area.
Another important point to remember is to ask God for help. The Bible tells us to ask, seek, and knock (Matthew 7:7). When we do this, we can be confident that God will provide for us in His perfect timing. VT
Student Voices - Mentors in College
Here's what other students and recent college graduates had to say when asked, "Who mentored you in college, and how did you develop a mentoring relationship?" After taking a summer class with my cognitive neuroscience professor and academic adviser, I joined his lab team where I worked as a research assistant for 2 1/2 years. This experience helped me recognize what I am truly passionate about professionally, which led me to pursue a graduate degree in higher education instead of a career in neuroscience. Despite his passion for the field, his support through this process helped me feel encouraged to pursue my own dreams, while learning from his example.
—Female graduate student, Illinois
I did not have a single mentor during my time in college; I happened to have many. My involvement in student governance put me into direct contact with many individuals—both upperclassmen and staff members—and these relationships opened doors all over campus. From this, I learned that not every mentor-mentee relationship has to be formally structured. Much can be gathered by asking questions of experienced individuals, while keeping an attitude of humility and a willingness to listen.
—Male college graduate, Texas