Human Development and Family Sciences Grad Mentor
Hope Cummings

Hope CummingsHow I First Heard about the IE Pre-Grad Internship program

In Spring of 2005, I received an email from my graduate coordinator recruiting graduate students and their mentors to participate in the Intellectual Entrepreneurship program. I was a third year graduate student and had never heard of the program before. The email immediately took my interest, particularly because it had a goal to increase minority and first generation undergraduate students' participation in graduate school. In addition, it came along with a $500 stipend funded by the new vice provost for Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Effectiveness. My first task was to find a mentee before I could apply to the program. I never thought this would be such a difficult task.

Obstacle 1: Finding a Mentee

When I contacted the undergraduate advising office (as directed in the email) to find a potential candidate, they were unaware of the program and did not know how to assist me. Further, I had contacted several friends who were also immediately interested in the program. We all had great difficulties finding mentees and we were all not successful. Many of the minority undergraduate students major in disciplines such as business and law. Finally I was referred to a young lady named Melanie Raines, by an African-American undergraduate research assistant who works with me (I tried to recruit her first, but she's going into medicine).

The Mentee

Melanie is a first-generation undergraduate student, a Texas native. This May she will receive her Bachelors of Science, in the field of Human Development and Family Sciences.

My Relationship with My Mentee

I contacted Melanie via email. We meet about a week later when I treated her and her friend (my undergraduate research assistant) out to lunch at the University Union. We briefly got acquainted with on another and went over paper logistics and the overall goal of the internship--to make sure she understood the mission of IE. We also developed a very free and permeable contract of assignments, tasks and expectations. It was important to me that I did not try to rush a relationship with Melanie. Melanie and I spent considerable time getting to know each other. Most of our meetings were held outside of the ivory tower, and in my apartment cooking dinner together. This setting, instead of bombarding her with articles to read, library research, and graduate school applications, allowed me to really get to know Melanie. This was vital for helping me as a mentor in trying to guide her.

It was also important that I stayed in line with the mission of IE. Our duties as mentors are not to push them into graduate school, but rather to help them assess whether graduate school is right for them. I wanted to develop a long term relationship with Melanie, not a relationship that ended along with IE internship. If she was going into graduate school, I knew she would need more support beyond getting accepted to graduate school. Further, Melanie had not even considered graduate school after graduation. Her plans were to graduate and get a job. As a mentor, I had to start from the very beginning- explaining what graduate school is and why it is the important.

Issues We Discussed the Most

Making the distinction between research based and more applied programs was very important. Tying potential jobs to each program area required Melanie to have a reflection of how she envisioned living her life in combination with her personality. We spent hours on the internet getting just an idea of what programs existed. Almost immediately, Melanie knew she wanted the more applied graduate program. I agreed with her all the way. Melanie decided to sit out of school for a year to work with the plan of entering graduate school the following year.

Similarly, focusing on a PhD or a masters program was of great interest. Although Melanie seemed more interested in the masters programs, the issue of funding took top precedent. Because many masters programs (especially within her area of interest) do not guarantee financial assistance like those of the PhD track, we decided to search for both PhD and masters programs.

Obstacle 2: Networking

If you want to know a little bit about me, my name is Hope Cummings and I am a graduate student who researches the impact of media on individual developmental strictly research-oriented degree program. Our differences in orientation posed a potential drawback for us. No longer could I tell Melanie to research applied programs-- I had to do so myself as well. I made contact with other Black graduate students through the Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA) at UT to seek their advice on applied programs and to ask them to meet with Melanie and me. A couple of weeks later, by chance, I had dinner with a group of faculty members--one who happened be on the graduate recruitment committee at a department that Melanie was interested in applying to. I told Melanie about these individuals and suggested that she/we should meet with them to discuss graduate school.

Obstacle 3: Finding Financial Support.

Melanie faced obstacles that I did not when applying for graduate school. Although she is a good student, she does not come off as a shining star when reviewing her academic record. Since the probability of Melanie getting into graduate school and receiving funding was questionable, we researched and talked about ways to strengthen her vita over the next year. Melanie expressed concerns regarding student loans, since she had already taking some out to help fund her undergraduate education. Although there is the potential to be a teaching or research assistant, there are more scholarship opportunities available to minorities than first generation students are at least the ones that I am familiar with. If she is accepted into graduate school, I am not sure how successful I will be in helping her find scholarship opportunities for first generation or European-American students like herself.

What I learned about Myself:

I always thought that I would be a great teacher and a true mentor. When I took on the IE program, I assumed the mentoring part was going to come naturally, with ease for me. From my graduate experience, I felt like I knew everything that I wanted and needed from a mentor and as a result, everything that Melanie needed as well--but I never directly asked her what she needed from me.

I had such a busy year defending my master's thesis, attending conferences, giving departmental presentations, taking classes, and my own research and teaching responsibilities, that I had very little time for Melanie. By my own actions, Melanie observed that graduate school is a very demanding and time consuming.

Obstacle 4: Development of Mentoring Abilities

This experience has allowed me to realize that being a good mentor does not come naturally. I can benefit greatly by taking professional development courses and seminars. I believe courses such as these should be integrated into graduate curriculums since these skills are vital in preparing future faculty to serve as mentors to graduate and undergraduate students.

Future Plans

Melanie and I have developed a really good friendship that will continue after the IE internship. Melanie has decided that graduate school is something that she wants to attend and has happily settled on applying to three similar departments. Our next main goal is to develop a secure schedule for the next year. Melanie will seek internships and volunteer opportunities that will improve her vita and increase her chances of being accepted into graduate school for next year. She will also begin the application process and study for the GRE. Melanie and I have decided to contact each other at least once a week to check in.

My Overall Perception of the IE Pre-Grad Internship

IE is a wonderful program with the goal of producing citizen-scholars. Many programs like it need to be developed and funded all across the nation. The program is a win-win for all--for the undergraduate, the graduate, the faculty, the educational institution, and the society in which these individuals live and work. One aspect of the program that I admired the most was the focus on introducing undergraduates to graduate school and not recruiting them. We are taught from a very early age to obtain the most education possible--to reach for the PhD, but the reality is, not everyone needs or wants a PhD. There are too many students who get accepted into graduate school only to learn that graduate school is not for them. Having the IE internship allows undergraduates to avoid making this mistake. Further, my involvement with IE made me question the paradigm used to foster and develop future leaders. Why are the educational structures set up the way they are, how do training styles vary across disciplines or across countries, are there more beneficial ways of teaching graduate education? In sum, participating in the IE program has taught me a lot about myself and has helped to shape my future goals. I enjoyed my experience with the IE program and would highly recommend it to both undergraduate and graduate students.