Mentoring

It's a ghost town up here, empty offices and classrooms. Very quiet and quite nice. I had a great chat with a colleague when I really didn't expect to see anyone today. This is a nice time to be on campus but also a sad one. I always think I'm going to like campus during the winter break, but the key element of the campus - the student - is clearly missing. Everything looks, feels, and sounds different as I walk to my office.

Finished the last of the team-related paperwork for the year and now I'm waiting to go to lunch with a couple of students. While I'm waiting, I thought I would type up some thoughts on students outside the classroom.

Interacting with students outside of the classroom is one of the finest rewards one gets out of coaching debate. I have been trying to use these moments as times to really teach some of the most important ideas. The requirements and restrictions of the classroom and the necessary formality of that scene impede some of the opportunities to encourage good thinking.

One of the issues facing anyone who teaches undergraduates in rhetoric is the issue of mentoring. How do you attract the best and brightest students into our field? How do you get them to investigate critically their career-oriented decision of a major? Of course we shouldn't go out and try to bring everyone in with a cattle call, but I believe there is an ethical responsibility of the instructor to force students to re-consider their initial major and career choice.

I know I want smart and critical colleagues over the next 20 years, so I always try to bring the students with high acumen over to our field. Even if they choose not to come, at least they have had a space opened for them where, for a little while, they evaluated the quality of the decision they made.

How to go about opening this space? For starters, inviting students to come to your office hours to discuss a question they raised, or a comment they made is a great start. Then the conversation can begin.

I try to keep the student focused on developing questions that are important to her. Then I suggest readings and let them borrow books or I make a photocopy of it and let them have it. Then I try to set a date for a conversation about it. I remain flexible about how long or how soon we meet again.

Hopefully more than one student is doing this and then they meet each other, and then they can work off the varying ideas.

One of the things I'm interested in doing is arranging undergraduate NCA panels or papers at the very least, maybe even poster sessions. I think NCA, for all its problems, is a fairly good introduction to the vibrancy and depth of the field of communication. It's good for the students to hear from other scholars about their questions and thoughts, and this might be one of the better ways to do it.


Even if they decide to continue down the track to a mid-management cubicle, at the very least they have developed a larger appetite for the rhetorical perspective. And if they do change, the world won't suffer for the lack of another lawyer, accountant, or consultant.