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On the Importance of Mentors
One of the things that I most embrace about being in the second half of my undergraduate career is the opportunity to speak to new students. It’s fun to offer whatever help and advice I can and, if nothing else, to offer support and encouragement. One of the most important pieces of advice that I can offer to new students is to do as much as you can to connect with where you are. Tribal colleges and universities are special for a lot of reasons, but near the top of that list is the opportunity to build community. Friendships and connections are important, but far and away, the thing that has made the difference in my TCU experience over my brief stint in a mainstream college, was accepting the help and guidance of people who have gone where I would like to go someday.
We often talk about mentorship as if it’s some sort of program that you can sign up for with specific deliverables, goals, and objectives. And sometimes it is. More often than not, though, the true role of a mentor is not something that can be easily quantified or checked off from a list.
Over my years at College of Menominee Nation and in the TCU community, I have been blessed to meet a number of people who have offered guidance and support of different kinds. Sometimes, this takes the form of answering questions when I don’t know how to find the answers (i.e., How do I write my CV without succumbing to impostor syndrome? Do I want an interesting title for my presentation, or should I just be sciencey and straight to the point?). Sometimes, it comes in the form of kicking me out of my comfort zone to show me that I am perfectly capable of taking on a new challenge. Sometimes, it’s encouraging me to think bigger when all I can think of is how I’m going to get through the week’s assignments. Sometimes it’s telling me to get out of my own head and just focus on getting through the week. Sometimes, it’s teaching me how to improve my lay-up at the basketball hoop outside when I need to quit banging my head against a problem for a few minutes. Sometimes, it’s telling me that I’m being ridiculous (because sometimes you need someone to tell you that). More often than not, though, it’s just letting me come along for the ride so that I can see with my own eyes what it looks like to seamlessly travel between the Western and Indigenous worlds—how to keep a foot firmly in both without losing track of where I’m going and where I’ve been. In many ways, I would say that in the last two and a half years what I have learned has been as much outside of the classroom as in it.
But while mentorship is a relationship with a definite slant in terms of who benefits in the most concrete way, it’s anything but a closed system. “The point of this is not to just get you to a certain place in your career and then stop,” one of my mentors once told me. “Once you get to that point, then you pass that on. You help others and bring them with you.”
Relationships of any kind carry with them a certain responsibility, and this one is no different. It starts with accepting help. But the cycle truly continues when you pass on what you have learned to others and become the helping hand for someone else who might need it.
Jasmine Neosh is a student at College of Menominee Nation.