Teaching Tips | April 19, 2017

Mentoring college students for graduate study

This post was written by Keith R. Okrosy, Student Career Programs Manager within Hunter College’s Career Development Services.

On March 23rd we took our focus on students to their lives after college and considered how we mentor those with the potential to pursue a PhD. Navigating the hills and valleys of an academic career pathway takes rigor and adaptability. During the program, we shared our stories and featured some of the resources that are available to help students along their journey.

We began the program by featuring some of the scholarship opportunities available at Hunter to support students in their pursuit of graduate study. Carol Oliver from the Ronald E. McNair Scholarship explained herself as a realist and discussed how the rigor of the McNair scholarship is the reason for their students’ success. Throughout the program, students are challenged with very specific guidelines and deadlines, such as applying to at least ten graduate programs. The intentions behind having such thorough requirements are based on the knowledge that the McNair team has developed through their relationships with prestigious graduate programs.

Stephen Lassonde of the Office of Prestigious Scholarships emphasized that working with students who have already been through a rigorous scholarship application has helped in obtaining future opportunities for students. For instance, Faiza Masood is a Marshall Scholarship recipient and a Thomas Hunter Honor student. Stephen connected with Faiza and explained how she was at the ready with her application when he approached her to submit for the Marshall. She had been through a similar process before which helped shape her expectations. He provided guidance on tailoring her application throughout every step but her focused attitude was instrumental to her success.

We rounded out the feature of the Hunter resources with a discussion of that critical-yet-mystifying component of the application, the statement of purpose. Dennis Paoli of the Rockowitz Writing Center explained that the statement of purpose is written in a style that professors tell students to avoid in their writing for assignments. Students are told not to use “I” and are taught to explain concepts or phenomena rather than to market their own experiences. However, adapting the approach of essay writing to the statement of purpose helps to demystify this process for students. Dennis related each step of the argumentation process with each step of the process for writing the statement of purpose. This highlighted how the statement of purpose really is an argument with the “I” as the subject of the narrative.

To really get to know the graduate school journey, we turned our attention to a true Hunter success story. Anahi Douglas, a McNair scholar and mentee to Jeff Allred, is pursuing her graduate studies in English Literature & Language at the CUNY Graduate Center. Anahi explained how her passion for literature drove her decision to pursue graduate level work. She is a first generation college student and so did not have the college expertise in her family to help her make her decision. She found the support she needed at Hunter through her relationship with Professor Allred. Through his one-on-one guidance, direction, and encouragement, as well as the resources and tools provided through McNair, Anahi is now actively supporting her own students as an adjunct at Hunter College. Anahi’s story highlights how critical the faculty/student relationship is to supporting ongoing success for the next generation of academics.

Partha Deb of Economics and Kelle Cruz of Physics & Astronomy rounded out the discussion by highlighting the need for faculty and staff to collaborate on making the journey more tangible for students. From the conversation it was clear that the right frame of mind was essential for students to pursue PhD-level graduate work. Partha noted how he takes an almost paternalistic approach when working with his students, pushing them beyond their boundaries, such as applying to schools outside of New York City, so that they are making the most of their success. Encouraging students early on to even think about graduate level work will help students build their ability to make these decisions confidently and strategically.

Demonstrating that rigorous academic work is achievable, Kelle highlighted the ongoing research conferences and poster presentations that are a tremendous way to feature the work that students and faculty are engaged in. More can be done to make these programs more rigorous. But we could utilize the visibility and focus of current programming to acclimate students to graduate study earlier in their college career.

The participants of this session engaged in a lively discussion on how we support students on their future paths. For success, students need to develop a strategic mindset based on maturity and awareness of real expectations of graduate programs. Students have to think beyond the here and now and base their decision to pursue academia on their passion for becoming an expert and future contributor to their discipline. Hunter College already has tremendous resources to support students in this endeavor but by pooling our resources and collaborating effectively we can expand on our student success and continue to challenge the next generation of thought leaders.

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