Amy L. Reynolds
Fall is an exciting time in the UCEA headquarters office with the fast approach of the Convention and 4th Annual Graduate Student Summit. This year, I feel a rather uncharacteristic nostalgia for these events as I prepare to phase out of my role on the Graduate Student Council, making room for a new, and third, UCEA headquarters graduate student to step into the role (welcome aboard, Bryan VanGronigen!). I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to forge ties with GSC founding members as I started graduate school at the University of Virginia, and also to see the GSC grow over the past four years.
In my role on the GSC, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about mentorship: What it looks like, who participates in it within and beyond UCEA, how to cultivate mentorship among UCEA graduate students and faculty, and what its meaning is for individuals and the organization. These thoughts, in turn, have helped me feel connected to UCEA’s larger legacy.
Some of this connects back to a session at last year’s UCEA Convention. A session titled, “UCEA Looking Back and Looking Forward on a Legacy for Leadership Preparation,” provided an opportunity for UCEA scholars to share reflections on UCEA’s history and contributions during its 60th anniversary year. The stories shared during this time were motivated by an appreciative inquiry process initiated by the Executive Committee to explore the strengths and meaningfulness of UCEA in the professional lives of UCEA faculty and students.
The participants consisted of both faculty with deep histories and connections to UCEA and those newer to the organization, and included: Michelle Young, Megan Tschannen-Moran, Mark Gooden, Joe Murphy, Martha McCarthy, Dan Duke, Noelle Arnold, Bradley Carpenter, Terry Astuto, Michael Dantley, Gary Crow, Mary Driscoll, Maria Luisa Gonzalez, Paul Bredeson, Margaret Grogan, Fran Kochan, Khaula Murtadha, Diana Pounder, Cindy Reed, Richard Gonzales, Andrea Rorrer, Kate Torres, and James Yates.
Richard Gonzales, one of the panel participants, shared about how his experience working with Michelle Young as one of the founding members of the GSC helped shape his experiences within UCEA. He has seen how the group he helped to found has quickly grown and become a key part of the graduate student experience at UCEA. The formation of the GSC represented UCEA’s continued commitment to mentorship of graduate students and creating opportunities for different voices to be heard within the organization.
It was an impressive group to see all in one place, but what struck me most was the palpable sense of camaraderie, trust, and mutual investment amongst the group. Many themes emerged from the content of the reflections shared: the legacy of UCEA, social justice, collaboration, future directions for UCEA, and mentorship. As a graduate student, hearing about legacies of mentorship from so many of the people I have seen be mentors and some of who have mentored me, was particularly meaningful.
Session participants spoke with heartfelt gratitude about the kind of mentoring they experienced through UCEA. Bradley Carpenter called it “life-changing,” Gary Crow characterized it as “consistent and persistent,” Margaret Grogan credited it with why she “stuck it out in the professoriate,” Diana Pounder was not sure she would have been there without it, Fran Kochan called it “a gift,” and Paul Bredeson described UCEA as a “warm home.” Meanwhile, Kat Torres and Diana Pounder both reflected on the importance of paying forward mentorship through UCEA as a means of sustaining the organization and making it a welcoming place for all.
The sentiments shared by each of the participants in the session were also more than words alone. Just the day before, I observed many of these same UCEA faculty members sharing their time and expertise with a record number of Graduate Student Summit participants. If you ever want to see mentoring alive and well at UCEA, come visit the Graduate Student Summit sessions. I count many of them as among my valued mentors. For instance, Dan Duke planted the seed that led me to decide to pursue a Ph.D. while I was in his courses during my Master’s program, Margaret Grogan was my discussant during my first paper session the GSS and shared her invaluable constructive criticism on my first solo study, every Convention year Malú Gonzalez asks what she can do to support graduate students, Bradley Carpenter was one of the very first people to find me at my first UCEA Convention to arrange for past and present UCEA headquarters graduate students to bond, and this is not an exhaustive list.
Mentors at UCEA are the guides in unfamiliar territory for those new to the field and the organization. Simple acts like introductions, listening, asking questions, and reaching out to a new face in the crowd can make a world of difference, it can even be life-changing. As I return for my fourth UCEA Convention, and complete my term on the GSC, I realize how UCEA has transitioned from an uncharted territory to a place filled with people I have come to know as mentors, colleagues, and friends. Perhaps it is because of this kind of mentoring across institutions and years that UCEA can feel like coming home.