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Mentorship in the time of a pandemic

Tue Oct 27, 2020 at 08:34 AM

Many relationships are formed on college campuses--from friendship to romantic relationships and everything in between. One of the most important relationships is mentorship. Danielle Ligocki, assistant professor of education in the School of Education and Human Services, said her relationships with her students are vital to her work as a teacher. As we celebrate National Mentoring Day on Tuesday, Oct. 27, Ligocki provides some advice for developing mentor-mentee relationships, even in the time of COVID-19. 

“In my teaching, my relationships with students are at the heart of what I do. Research and grants are important, but in the field of education, I need to model what I want them to do--and that includes caring about their students and building relationships with them,” said Ligocki. 

As a professor, Ligocki has served as a faculty mentor for several students in the Honors College as they prepared their thesis. While these relationships are formal and outlined, she also serves as a mentor to students in a much less formal capacity. She said not all of the mentor/mentee relationships have to be defined and structured. Many are developed through casual interactions and happen unceremoniously. 

The pandemic has made it more difficult to forge these relationships, but Ligocki said it isn’t impossible and can offer benefits to both the mentor and mentee. 

Mentors Should Provide Support

“Being an undergrad isn’t easy,” said Ligocki. “Especially for our first generation students or those who are working.”

Ligocki said she can understand where the students are coming from, as she had to work her way through college as well. She wants to give them a supportive, understanding person to talk to, because she hopes that someday her students can be that person for their students. 

“For me, these relationships are centered from a place of love,” said Ligocki. “Now, more than ever, I think everybody just needs to feel supported. While that looks different for different people, it all comes down to feeling seen and supported.”

Mentors Should Be Available, But Set Boundaries

When Ligocki was in college, she worked and went to class. She said she primarily had Sundays to get through all of her studying and homework. When a professor wasn’t available to her at that time, she often couldn’t get her questions answered. So, she tries to be there for her students. 

“I’m available and responsive through email and my students know that,” said Ligocki. As she can’t meet with her students in person, she also makes time for virtual face-to-face meetings as part of her class through a weekly synchronous component. With the Honors College mentees, she said they connect screen-to-screen every two weeks to discuss the thesis work.  

Ligocki said if faculty members don’t have time to devote to student mentees, it’s important to tell them and suggest someone who might be a better fit for their needs. 

Mentorship Should Be a Safe Place

Ligocki said she has students come to her with all sorts of situations and she feels her job is to be supportive, no matter what. 

Throughout her career, Ligocki has walked with students through thesis projects, understanding their own race, supporting urban education and finding their own voices when they come to college and are exposed to new opinions. She has also supported them through messy things, like losing their home or returning to an unsafe, unhealthy home situation during the pandemic. 

To make her students feel comfortable, Ligocki said it’s important for the students to see the human side of their mentor as well. She said situations have come up, especially now that she is working from home, when her daughter will walk in during a meeting, or her family can be heard in the background. She said that let’s her students see that she has a life outside of the classroom and cares about more than just their grades. 

“I hope that when they are in their future classrooms, they are able to let their students see them as a human as well,” said Ligocki. 

Mentorship Can Be Beneficial For Both Parties

Earlier this semester, a student told Ligocki she wasn’t upset that her in-person graduation was canceled, she just wanted to have coffee with Ligocki. The student said Ligocki was a special part of her college experience, and celebrating that was important to her. Ligocki said making that impact on a student was truly meaningful for her as an educator. 

Ligocki said she got into education to make a difference in the lives of her students, and interactions like that make it all worth it, she said. 

For her students, mentorship can mean discussions about opposing viewpoints, dissecting research, or even how to approach life after college. 

Ligocki said she has students who ask for advice when applying for jobs, or who ask for letters of recommendation or to look over their website or portfolio. “I even have one student who texts me every year on National Teacher Day.”