Thoughts on Mentoring

Oct 20, 2014, 9:00 AM

For 23 years, Project L/EARN has created stronger candidates for admission to graduate programs. The intensive, 10-week summer internship provides training, experience, and mentoring to undergraduate college students from socioeconomic, ethnic, and cultural groups that traditionally have been underrepresented in graduate education. Project L/EARN is a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, and Rutgers University. In this post, interns and mentors share their insights on the value of mentoring in general, and on Project L/EARN in particular. For more, check out an accompanying Infographic: Project L/EARN: Milestones.

“Project L/EARN mentoring has been incredibly instrumental in my career path and has contributed greatly to my professional success. The program was my first major introduction to research, and helped me to apply and reinforce research methods and statistical analysis skills throughout my undergraduate and graduate years.” — Anuli Uzoaru Njoku, MPH, DrPH, post-doctoral fellow, Fox Chase Cancer Center, 1999 Intern

“Mentoring means allowing me to experience how someone else sees me—someone who believes in me and sees my potential, someone who can set my sights higher and in the right direction.” — Tamarie Macon, MS, PhD in progress, University of Michigan, 2006 Intern

“Project L/EARN mentoring, then and now, has been the difference between the summer program being a one-time experience, and the beginning of an educational and professional career that will undoubtedly contribute to the story of my life. The mentoring was the avenue by which my truest potential, of which I had no real awareness, was discovered and cultivated. That cultivation has resulted, and is still resulting, in opportunities and accomplishments that are beyond my imagination.” — David Fakunle, PhD in progress, Johns Hopkins University, 2008 Intern

“The success I have had and my goals of working with the underprivileged would not have been possible without the extensive engagement of the Project L/EARN mentors.” — Dakota Cintron, MS in progress, Columbia University Teachers College, 2011 Intern

“Project L/EARN mentoring gave me the support and one-on-one attention I needed while developing the essential research and professional skills that I used to work in a clinical laboratory, to complete my honors thesis, and to be a competitive candidate for my current research position.” — Patricia Calixte-Civil, Research Assistant, Division of Addiction Psychiatry, Rutgers Medical School, 2012 Intern

“The mentoring provided by Project L/EARN empowered and gave me confidence to pursue my dreams by connecting me with other minorities pursuing this field and showing me the importance of seeking out mentors to guide me.” — Giselle Colorado, MS, PhD in progress, Yeshiva University, 2006 Intern

“Project L/EARN is the model example of what mentoring to diverse populations in higher education should be.” — Kimele Gray Persaud, PhD in progress, Rutgers University, 2011 Intern

“The passion and creativity of Project L/EARN students in using research tools to ask and answer innovative questions inspires me to continue learning from members of our academic community who may have very different life experiences from my own. I have become a better researcher and mentor by helping these students to find their own paths to success in academics, professional life, and community service. They nudge us all in new directions and keep us engaged in challenging work.” — Dorothy Gaboda, MSW, PhD, Mentor

“Being a Project L/EARN mentor has helped me both professionally and personally. I have become a better data analyst and a better writer through teaching my interns, and my research has benefitted from the interns’ academic year participation, following their Project L/EARN summer.” — Susan Brownlee, PhD, Mentor

“As a Project L/EARN mentor, I truly enjoy helping deserving students persevere, learn, and flourish. In addition to that personal fulfillment, mentoring these bright students from backgrounds very different from my own also teaches me new perspectives on the issues I study. Their openness, idealism, and curiosity refreshes my own determination to do meaningful research.” — Kristen Lloyd, MPH, Mentor

“As someone who has mentored several students from minority and/or disadvantaged backgrounds, these students struggle with a diversity of challenges—financial, family, class/race issues—that impact their academic functioning or their views of themselves and their futures. I allow for space in the relationship to discuss these issues, provide support and share my own experiences. Being a mentor has become a core part of my professional identity, and I try to foster this type of professional identity in my current mentees.” — Ayorkor Gaba, PsyD, Senior Project Director, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Mentor, 2000 Intern

“One of my greatest challenges as a mentor was to learn the importance of ‘tough love.’ Our many successes in Project L/EARN have come because we have very high expectations for our students, make them clear, and hold them to them. They also come because students realize and really believe that we care deeply about them, that we are there for them not just while they are formally in the program, but for the long haul, and that we mean and live up to that commitment.” — Peter Guarnaccia, PhD, former Project L/EARN Faculty Director

“As Faculty Director, I devote a lot of time to training mentors for Project L/EARN. From the get-go, we make it clear that our program is very different from many undergraduate research training programs in terms of what it expects from its mentors. Mentoring the mentors is one of my favorite professional roles because it helps increase the pipeline of researchers who are prepared and committed to developing the next generation of health researchers from groups that have been underrepresented in the profession.” — Jane Miller, PhD, Project L/EARN Faculty Director

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.