Friday, July 25, 2014

Learning to find your own bugs

Last week my wife and I traveled to Rocky Mountain National Park. One of my favorite features of the rockies (besides the in-your-face geology) is a particular bird called the American Dipper, which is known for walking along stream bottoms searching for insects and its eponymous up-and-down bobbing.

The American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus)

Human Development

Wow, I can't believe the summer has progressed this far!  I'm also thrilled with the progress of the fantastic students I'm working with.  Courtney has taken on an enormous amount of responsibility and Peng is a field sampling and lab ANIMAL.  A late comer, Mary, is doing great work as the protocol potentate.  Outstanding!

I'm now in Washington, D.C. at the American Society for Microbiology.  I'm facilitating a workshop that helps faculty design and execute scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL) studies.  Once they leave this workshop, these great faculty will return to their campuses across the nation and investigate the impacts of classroom practices on student learning and development.

It's funny, the mentoring approaches I use are the same for both undergraduates and faculty members.  Stay positive, provide room for making mistakes, encourage everyone to work to their full potential, match people's interests with projects, and keep everyone focused on the goal.

The LAKES REU faculty have high aspirations for our students.  You are all so capable and offer such promise for the future.  In every one of you I see the potential to not only have satisfying careers, but to make an impact on the world; to improve it and make it a better place.

Our project is a long-term effort, one that won't be solved this summer or perhaps for a long time.  We made an amazing start on this problem primarily due to your hard work and commitment.  Thank you for all your efforts!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

On mentoring: Some sociological ruminations

I always dug Miyagi, of course.  Who didn't?  He created some sort of Zen-like coolness out of waxing the car.  But upon reflection, he kind of had it easy.  He had one person to mentor.  This is not the case for teachers (or other types of mentors out there).  I'm just saying. :)

Sometimes you meet a student who comes in and says, "I have the next three years figured out- I'm so excited!"  Sometimes you hear, "I have no idea what to do with my life; I just really like thinking deeply about stuff."  Then you have the student who is taking care of two kids, works two jobs, and has no time for schoolwork...but really wants a college degree and the ensuing job it (presumably) brings.  Your role as a mentor is to put each of their lives in your hands, as much as possible, and help them make their goals, however vague or improbable they may be, a reality.  No pressure, right? 

I'm loving every one of our LAKES students this summer.  They are all amazing people, but each in their own ways.  We had our first meeting with the LAKES students about six weeks ago.  When I gave my "let's change the world" speech I saw fuzzy warm excitement from some and skeptic eye-rolling from others.  [This was in an environment where every student was motivated to do research.]  I was reminded that even with outstanding students my "mentor" role would be many things, depending on the student and the moment: from cheerleader to facilitator to friend to teacher.  

We all mentor others at many times in our lives.  We want to make that time with them mean something.  We want to make our lives count, for theirs.  How can we do so much for so many different people??  Of course, how we do so is shaped by those who mentored us, and I think our effectiveness depends on the variety of people we globbed onto...