Mentorship: What Doc Emmett Brown & Mr. Miyagi Have Taught Me

All of you higher education professionals out there… have you ever found yourself sitting down and talking to a student about something REALLY important and offering up advice that you should PROBABLY be taking in your own life, but aren’t?  If you said no – congrats … maybe one day I’ll get there, but today – this post is dedicated specifically to just that.

Last week, I found myself doing just that.

Funny enough, I also came across this quote by the great Steven Spielberg, “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves”.

I found myself questioning my mentor skills because I was offering advice that I wasn’t (at the moment) taking myself.  It wasn’t until I saw the Spielberg quote that someone posted that I started talking myself down from my self-proclaimed hypocritical head-spin.

Amidst the head-spin, I found myself questioning what it was to be a mentor.

Looking around today’s world there are so many ways we can mentor those around us. To use examples most people can relate to I’ll use some popular movie character mentor references (who doesn’t love movie references?).

  • Mr. Miyagi mentored the Karat Kid by using the “I say, you do” method.
  • “God” from Bruce Almighty uses the “I’m going to teach you a lesson you’ll never forget” mentor method.
  • Can’t forget the Dewey Finn (School of Rock) mentor style, which basically informs people to “fight the man” and get angry.
  • On the opposite end of the spectrum, we’ve got X-Men’s Charles Xavier  who uses the “we can be the better men to improve the world” mentor style.
  • …And what about Batman’s Alfred, using the “we fail so that we learn to succeed” mentor method?
  • The incredible John Keating (Dead Poets Society) mentor method of “seize he day and make your lives extraordinary” can never be forgotten.
  • For those Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fans out there, Splinter teaches us with his mentor style to use our minds, not our bodies, to succeed.
  • Lastly, we’ve got Doc Emmett Brown, who showed us in Back to the Future that you can be totally MAD and still make a difference and mentor a kid.

WaxOnWaxOff

What’s my point in all of this, you ask?

(Maybe you don’t- but, I’m going to tell you anyway)

There is NO SPECIFIC WAY to be a good mentor.  There is no handbook to follow and no directions to follow.  I know using movies and characters as examples can seem a little far fetched to some people – but, think about it.  Just like every movie listed above is different and every character is totally different, every student you deal with is different.  Each student learns a different way.  Each student has experienced different things in their lives, and therefor no two students learn the exact same way.

The more I thought about it, the less guilty I felt for offering the student advice that I wasn’t taking in my own life.  Why?  At the time, she needed to hear it, she was benefiting from it and she wasn’t asking what I WAS DOING, she was asking what SHE SHOULD DO.

A good mentor is honest, up front and encouraging.  The delivery method – where, when and how, will always vary.  I look back at all of the people I consider to be mentors in my life and no two were the same, no two spoke to me the same way – and yet, their teachings stay with me.  As long as you know that you are doing everything in your power to help that student grow and get to a better place, you are doing all you can do.

I have only been a professional in higher education for about 3 months, but I have learned more about myself (and students) than I thought possible in that amount of time – and I can’t wait to learn more.  I may not be a Doc Emmett Brown  or a Mr. Miyagi – but, I am determined to make a difference in student’s lives the way my mentors have in mine.

This is my life …  In Progress. 

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Anyone Can Make An Impact On Anyone

Every morning I wake up to two quotes from different apps – one from “yoga quotes” and the other from “quote of the day”.  Sometimes I feel like they have nothing to do with my life, and probably never will.  Today’s, however, fit in perfectly with a recent occurrence in my life – which inspired me to write about it.

The quote: 

“Not only can you not plan the impact you’re going to have, you often won’t recognize it when you’re having it.”

Last Tuesday, I received a Facebook message from a student who worked at the Rec Center at Rowan University.  Although I was a G.A at the Student Center, I taught Zumba at the Rec Center and worked out there fairly often.  I met so many awesome, driven, inspiring and motivating students, GAs, and professional staff there.  I was lucky to be surrounded by such awesome people throughout Rowan.

image This one student in particular was a huge motivator for me.  CONFESSION: I was a cardio addict –  teaching Zumba 5-6 times a week, running on occasion, obsessed with the elliptical … that was me.  I barely touched weights and hardly dabbled in strength training.  Truth be told – I was afraid of the weight room.  I didn’t know how most of the stuff worked and I was terrified to try to use it all.  This student was a trainer, and was CONSTANTLY motivating her clients … I would see her at the gym almost every morning between 6-7 am working with all different types of people … so I decided to reach out.  Her personality was fun-loving, bubbly, inspiring and that of an all around driven trainer.  She immediately offered to help me, and within weeks had me in the weight room, comfortable with majority of the machines and had a full program set up for me.  Eventually, I wasn’t afraid to walk in the weight room on my own, and spend my entire workout strength training with the exception of a 5-10 minute warm-up.  She was a student, she was younger than me and SHE HAD A HUGE IMPACT ON ME AND THE WAY I LIVED MY LIFE.  This student went on to be offered and accept a Graduate Assistantship (which she is going to ROCK at).

I digress …

Last Tuesday, I received a FB a Facebook message from this student – part of which stated, “I know we didn’t get the chance to see each other before you or I had left, but I wanted to say thanks for everything. You’ve really been an inspiration to me. You’ve made me want to be a health advocate, GA, and positive person like you. The little things you do every day has made an impact on me and many others as well. I will continue to follow you on your journey and I hope that we can stay in touch!”

Needless to say, I was speechless (for those of you who know me, you know that doesn’t happen often).  Here I was, so grateful for the inspiration, motivation and courage this student supplied me with – and there she was thanking ME for inspiring her.  Never, in a million years, did I expect to be someone who made an impact on her.  I was so focused on my gratitude for what she taught me that I didn’t pay attention to what my words or actions did for her.

Needless to say, this has all taught me a REALLY important life lesson.  You have NO IDEA who you’re making an impact on (positive OR negative … lucky for me, this was positive).  At any given point, no matter where your head is – other people are thinking about and focusing on something completely different.  You may think that you’re walking through your day, without anyone noticing – but, in reality, you are leaving footprints wherever you go.  It’s up to YOU if those footprints will be remembered positively or negatively – and regardless of what you think, someone WILL remember something.

One of the reasons I am looking forward to being a professional in higher education is because the people surrounding you, students especially, can teach YOU just as much as you can teach THEM – and this further proved that for me.  Once again, this student has taught me an important lesson – and I could not be more grateful.

This is my life …  In Progress. 

Knowing the Difference: Want vs. Need

Recently, I had a Skype interview for a job that posed a really interesting and thought-provoking question.  I answered the question to the best of my ability and later on thought about all of the other answers I could have given (everyone does that, right?).  The question was a great one posed for higher education, but also got me thinking about certain things in life… and, who doesn’t love thought-provoking questions that encourage you to think about multiple things?

So- I figured … why not share?

The question:  Please provide us with something you feel that college students want, but don’t need and also with something college students need, but don’t necessarily want.  

During my interview I replied with an answer directed more towards Res Life, because that was the type of position I was interviewing for.  I spoke on the fact that students show up to college, often, with unrealistic thoughts of what it is like to live on a college campus because of the views that TV shows and movies provide.  Students want freedom, they want to feel like they’re able to do whatever they want, whenever they want and that they’re ready to take on the world.  In reality, I feel that students need someone there to help them transition into a new phase of their lives.  They don’t need a babysitter, or someone acting as a “helicopter” so to speak – but, people who are willing to mentor them, and help them on their way in casewantneed the get lost on the  brand new path they’re traveling – even if they don’t always want it.

Spark Notes Version:

  • Want, but don’t need = Complete freedom with no supervision
  • Need, but don’t (always) want =  Someone there to help them transition into a new phase of their lives

There are so many topics that can be brought to the table in regards to this question, in the realm of higher education.  At Rowan, one of the biggest topics of discussion when the new President was sworn in last year was that of making the campus even more focused on “Student Centeredness” than it already was.  By focusing on the students and all different types of student learners, Rowan (and all other institutions) would be giving the students what they need in order to develop skills so that they are able to have successful lives during and post-college.   By focusing on this question of want vs need in higher education, it really helps bring focus to student growth.

It was definitely an interesting question … and one I pose to the higher education community – both students and professionals.  What do you feel students want but don’t necessarily need – and vice versa?