As students explore opportunities, mentors provide personal support
Most students come to college as works in progress, their interests only partially identified, their potential still to be realized. And as they explore and develop that potential, many students find something equally important: a mentor.
OSU offers an “opportunity-rich environment” for mentoring; at the same time, it’s an informal and organic process, says Larry Roper, vice provost for student affairs. Inspiration can come from a faculty or staff member who sees promise in a student, or a student may find it in a teacher or researcher.
Regardless of how they begin, mentoring relationships are characterized by intensity and openness. Mentors may offer specific advice or simply listen without judgment. Other times, they may have to tell students what they don’t want to hear.
“Good mentors seem to know what voice is appropriate at what time to get students’ attention and help them along the way,” Roper says.
Roper’s own experience being mentored in college, by a Russian literature professor and his track coach, remains influential more than 30 years later. The relationships taught him about balance and gave him confidence.
“They helped me uncover my best possible self, always looking for the possibilities in my life that weren’t clear to me,” Roper says. “In the places where my ability didn’t match the potential, they helped me develop the competence I needed.”
The mentor Chris Bell, associate dean, College of Engineering
The student Eunice Naswali, senior in electrical engineering from Kampala, Uganda
Making a difference Bell was only an “incidental mentor,” he says. With his wife and grown children, he had volunteered through Crossroads International, a community volunteer organization in the Office of International Programs, to serve as a “friendship family” when Naswali came to the United States in 2004. Although his specialty is in a different discipline, civil engineering, Bell encouraged her early on to pursue an internship in the Multiple Engineering Cooperative Program (MECOP). More than 100 companies in Oregon and Washington offers students opportunities through MECOP.
Naswali has completed her first internship at Mentor Graphics in Wilsonville, and she is working in her second at Vestas Americas in Portland this summer. Vestas is one of the world’s largest wind-energy companies, and Naswali hopes the experience will help her in a future career back in Uganda, tackling the country’s problems with power generation and distribution to remote areas.
The mentor Peter Bottomley, professor in microbiology, College of Science
The student Shawn Starkenburg, Ph.D. ’07, Rapid City, South Dakota
Making a difference As a Ph.D. student and then as a post-doctoral researcher, Starkenburg worked in Bottomley’s lab for almost five years to understand how bacteria process nitrogen in fertilizers and wastewater. He helped to map the genome of a type of bacteria that plays a crucial role in the nitrogen cycle. Although Starkenburg had worked in labs before coming to OSU, Bottomley helped him to hone his writing skills and “to take ownership and creatively approach the research,” Starkenburg says.
For his part, Bottomley sees mentoring as a learning process with different levels of management and input. “It’s very difficult to have one model that you follow with all students,” he says. “You have to see students individually, giving them opportunities to recognize their own strengths.”
A participant in OSU’s Subsurface Biosphere Initiative, Starkenburg received a National Science Foundation fellowship to study the genomics of nitrification. He is now working at Invitrogen in Eugene, Oregon.
The mentor Greg Thompson, department head, agricultural education and general agriculture, College of Agricultural Sciences
The student Bibiana Gomes, senior in general agriculture from Sandy, Oregon
Making a difference As a high school student, Gomes showed beef cattle at the county fair and was president of her local FFA (Future Farmers of America) Chapter. Family and friends advised her to go into education, but she spent her first two years at OSU on a different career path.
Still, she couldn’t stay away from agriculture. She joined the collegiate FFA chapter, for which Thompson is the adviser. “I’m passionate about teaching,” says Thompson, “and when I see students with real potential, I encourage them. From me, it’s the ultimate compliment to hear, ‘you’d be a great teacher.’”
Gomes completed her degree last spring and will start an agricultural education master’s program at OSU this fall. Thompson is impressed with how hard she works and her natural ability as a “kid magnet,” he says. “She will be a great teacher.”
The mentor Ann Zweber, senior instructor, College of Pharmacy
The student Channa George, second-year pharmacy student from Ten Sleep, Wyoming
Making a difference Take your prescription to the Bi-Mart pharmacy on 9th Street in Corvallis, and you might find Zweber and George working side by side. Zweber works in the pharmacy part time to “maintain my practice and credibility with students,” she says. George is completing an internship as part of the pharmacy program.
George says working with Zweber gives her a role model for how to care for patients, “how she talks to them, listens to them and helps them.” The internship experience also shows how pharmacists are becoming more involved with patients and more responsible for the outcomes of medications.
“Ann gives me a lot of confidence. She makes me feel I can do whatever I want to do,” George says. “I want to be like her when I’m a pharmacist.”