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ICC 650
Box 571014

37th & O St, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20057

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Phone: (202) 687.6400



Staff as Student Mentors

I was eighteen years old. I was in the first year of college, as what we now call, a first-gen student. While one roommate shared this status, the other was from a much richer background. The hallway of the dormitory seemed filled with graduates of prep schools throughout the land. The resident advisor, a senior, basically kept to himself. I was, as all first year students, trying to figure out how things worked in what I found to be a very strange environment.

The faculty were uniformly impressive, with behaviors that conveyed in their every act that they were scholarly and deeply schooled in their field. While they encouraged use of their office hours, I don’t recall that the gesture generated warm feelings in my mind. I can recall only one visit to a faculty office that in that first year, a response to being summoned there.

There was, however, a person who reached out during that time. She was, as I now remember, toward the end of her career. She was referred to as the “department secretary” in one of the units of my study. She always seemed to be present in those halls, a real contrast to the faculty who were not often in the offices.

I suppose I was first impressed that she merely seemed to notice me. I can’t recall exactly how she reached out. She might have noticed my perplexed state in an attempt to find a faculty office to turn in an assignment. It might have been my looking at notices on a bulletin board about jobs on campus.

An impressively tall woman for her generation, with silver hair and an erect status, she also had an engaging smile. When she offered me help, it seemed less the execution of an administrative duty and more an invitation to friendship.

So I saw her more frequently. She became an interpreter for the practices of the college. Through her, I learned how things worked. She told me about opportunities that I didn’t know about. She discerned my insecurities and bolstered me up when coursework was puzzling me. She emboldened me to knock on a faculty office door and actually engage with those who formerly intimidated me.

Thinking back on those times, I suspect this was her real calling, her personal mission. Of course, she seemed to serve well all the administrative needs of the department faculty, keeping track of progress to degree of students, and faculty duties of conduct of courses. But she was the socio-emotional rock of the group. She was beloved by the faculty and students alike.

I suspect little of the gifts of mentorship that she gave me were part of her job description. But she excelled at that part of her life. I perceived her to be my coach and advanced scout for the new terrain I was traversing.

It is common for alumni to remember the faculty who affected their ways of thinking and perceiving the world. They too have fundamental impact on the formation of the character of students. Later in my undergraduate years, I greatly benefited from such close ties with faculty. They did indeed shape how I think and do.

But I’m not sure whether I would have achieved those benefits without those early days meeting Elsie and receiving her wisdom. She was the first step that was necessary for me before traversing any later step of enjoying the benefits of higher education. I trust she knew that all along and that was her calling.

3 thoughts on “Staff as Student Mentors

  1. Wonderful story. Listening , reaching out , kindness. It reminds me to tout again GUAA Hoya Gateway – a wonderful opportunity for students and alums to connect with experienced and dedicated alums who are ready to mentor. And remember our great hoya legend Dr Proc HARVEY often said. “ you G/T ratio must be high ie. giving vs taking “. And as Hoyas giving back we also receive much more than we give . We get joy from tge connections with Hoyas young and old. It’s one of the most rewarding things in my life whether teaching and mentoring young Hoyas in class or on line in person or on Zoom ! Try it you’ll like and enjoy it.

  2. When I was an undergraduate our dorm had a faculty mentor —PH.D. in theater—in addition to our “dorm mother” who was a grad student in charge of the dorm, plus the hall Resident Assistants who were undergrads. We were not over-monitored. There were still students who fell through the cracks of the RAs weekly programs, and the monthly programs that were dorm-wide, plus the clubs we were all in. I had a hyper-successful roomie who was in 11 or so clubs across campus at one point. You really can’t have too many friends.

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Office of the ProvostBox 571014 650 ICC37th and O Streets, N.W., Washington D.C. 20057Phone: (202) 687.6400Fax: (202)

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