It’s the little things. A quick ‘hello’ while passing each other on campus; thanking a student for his or her insightful comment during a class discussion; or simply taking the time to ask, “How are you today?” and waiting to hear the answer. These simple gestures, said Glenn Omatsu, coordinator of the Faculty Mentor Program at California State University, Northridge, are what help turn educators into mentors.
Omatsu said those are some of the attributes of the 2011 Don Dorsey Excellence in Mentoring Award Winners. The award recipients are Jorge Garcia, professor in the Department of Chicana/o Studies; King Carter, instructor in the Department of Pan African Studies; and Lauren McDonald, professor in the Department of Sociology.
The three were honored last year by the Educational Opportunity Program’s Faculty Mentor Program. The annual award recognizes faculty and staff who have made exceptional contributions to mentoring of past and present students; who take a holistic approach to mentoring, including academic and personal support; and who support the university’s commitment to the success of students of diverse backgrounds and communities.
“On our campus, faculty oftentimes believe they don’t have time to mentor our students because they only think of mentoring in terms of big moments,” Omatsu said. “However, our students really appreciate the small mentoring moments.”
Mentoring, said Omatsu, “is embodied within the person himself. It’s not something they do, it’s who they are.”
Garcia started teaching at Cal State Northridge in 1970 when the campus was known as San Fernando Valley State College. He is a well-known campus leader and student advocate. When the former dean of the College of Humanities stepped down, he sought out the opportunity to take a more hands-on role in students’ lives as a professor of Chicana/o studies, working with first-semester EOP Summer Bridge freshmen, Omatsu said. The bridge programs provide high-potential students with a transitional experience that gives them the best possible opportunity to succeed at the university. Many of the bridge students are the first from their low-income families to attend college.
“A lot of senior faculty don’t like teaching freshmen,” Omatsu said. “They (freshmen) come to campus and need a lot of extra help. Professor Garcia specifically asked to do it.”
For more than two decades, Carter has worked with EOP Bridge freshmen. He is also a PACE director for the Los Angeles Community College District. He believes mentoring provides important opportunities for professors to share stories of personal successes and failures, and that hearing such real-life stories can better prepare students for their own personal and professional challenges.
“Positive lessons can be learned from both failure and success. Knowledge of life’s potential pitfalls can enable young people to either side-step them or handle them in the appropriate manner,” said Carter about why he mentors.
McDonald has been teaching at CSUN for nearly four years. She also is the faculty adviser to the Alpha Kappa Delta Sociology Honor Society and chair of the Student Development Committee. McDonald said one of the most important facets of mentoring is the ability to provide students with consistent understanding of his or her background, challenges, hopes and aspirations, while also serving as a role model.
“If a student can relate to a mentor, it makes it easier for them to say, ‘I can do that someday,’” she said.
The Don Dorsey Excellence in Mentoring Award was first presented in 1998. The award’s namesake, professor emeritus Don Dorsey, cultivated the university’s first mentor training program.