Reaching for Lofty Goals
Many successful people give generous credit for their achievements to the guidance of mentors who counseled them as young adults. At the University of Missouri–Kansas City, mentorship is a vital part of the educational experience. One of the common threads in the ongoing Our Students. Our Story. #UMKCGoingPlaces series on the UMKC site and tumblr is how students appreciate the work of their mentors.
To focus even more on those crucial mentorship relationships, we’ve created another regular feature: Dynamic Duos. In interviews and images, we’re giving you an intimate look at faculty/staff-and-student mentorship pairs at UMKC. Read the other Dynamic Duos articles.
MEET MONA LYNE and PARKER WEBB
Mona Lyne, associate professor and chair of the Department of Political Science in the College of Arts and Sciences, joined the UMKC faculty in 2008 and has received multiple awards for her writing. She specializes in comparative politics and international relations, and speaks Spanish and Portuguese fluently. She is a member of the American Political Science Association, the Latin American Studies Association and the Midwestern Political Science Association.
Parker Webb graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from UMKC in 2014, with a minor in Economics. Currently, Webb is pursuing a Master of Science in Entrepreneurial Real Estate degree from the Henry W. Bloch School of Management, and he expects to finish in 2018.
Lyne has mentored Webb since he was a freshman at UMKC taking one of her classes. He always sat in the front row and sought her advice. Lyne remembers often saying “Does anyone besides Parker have a question?”
Lyne and Webb meet at different spots around Kansas City, including Charlie Hooper’s in Brookside, and continue to see each other at events including presidential election debate gatherings Lyne has helped organize at Pizza 51.
“At UMKC because of its size, faculty are able to develop true relationships with students,” Lyne said. Currently, the student-to-faculty ratio is 14:1. “I’m able to write recommendation letters for students I know with lots of detail. That’s pretty unusual for a university of this size, which has such a high level of research, performing arts and community involvement.”
Those letters have proven valuable to Webb throughout his college education.
“I’ve paid my own way through school, and this helped me with scholarships,” Webb said. “Also, Dr. Lyne helped me with my writing.”
The mentorship relationship goes both ways. “He helped me learn all about Google Docs.”
Together with another student, a presentation they delivered in 2012 at the annual Midwest Political Science Association conference was covered online in The Atlantic and helped inform the headline: “Fake Orgasms and the Tea Party: Just Another Political Science Convention.”
What changes have you seen in Parker since you’ve started mentoring him?
Lyne: I have seen amazing growth. When I first met Parker, he was very commendably idealistic, and had a desire to make a big difference in the world. He walked the talk early on, playing a leadership role in the UMKC Chapter of GlobeMed, an international NGO that works on health and development issues in developing countries. He spent two summers in Uganda gathering data on projects the UMKC chapter had sponsored. He matured through that experience, realizing that development problems are highly complex and that there are no easy scapegoats or silver-bullet solutions. After earning his bachelor’s degree, he has refocused that idealism and energy locally, taking a job with a local development firm and continuing his education in the Bloch School. He sees both of these as opportunities to gain the knowledge and skills to contribute to Kansas City development that serves the city as a whole. He is quickly becoming a young leader to keep an eye on. He is very active in local politics, he volunteers as a Big Brother and I believe he will ultimately find a rewarding career in public service.
How has your mentor challenged you?
Webb: Dr. Lyne has challenged me in so many ways academically and personally. Once, she set up a meeting with a professor and me from another university who did work in East Africa – a particular interest of mine. The meeting was a lunch during the American Political Science Association’s annual meeting; just being at the conference was a huge honor. However, I made some foolish choices and missed the meeting. Dr. Lyne wasn’t shy in reprimanding me and providing critical mentorship at that moment. It was kind of like the Uncle Ben speech in Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Really, she was telling me that she believed I had a lot of potential but was messing up my opportunities. I will never forget this lesson and have remained more focused and better behaved ever since.
What makes faculty mentorship critical to the success of students?
Lyne: UMKC’s students represent a very wide variety of backgrounds and experience. Many are juggling multiple roles, including family, work and school. Many are international students who may be new to life in America. Their ability to successfully manage these multiple roles and/or navigate a new culture already attests to their initiative and drive. In other words, they have high aspirations, but in many cases less time and fewer other role models to look to in planning their future. A little extra assistance and guidance in navigating UMKC to ensure their future success can go a long way in helping them turn college into more than just a set of classes and a credential.
What led you to UMKC?
Webb: Much of the advice I was given before choosing an undergraduate institution was to go to school where you want to work. I visited a number of universities in a number of cities, but there’s nowhere like home: Kansas City. UMKC’s desire to empower students with leadership opportunities, make connections with many community supporters and the unique relationship that is able to be created because of the size and Midwestern nature of the university made it the perfect fit for me.
Where is UMKC taking you?
Webb: Currently, I am a real estate adviser. I help retail clients find and negotiate leases in new locations, buy and sell investment properties and I consult municipalities and government officials on real estate and economic development issues – things I believe my UMKC political science and economics education has greatly assisted. What does the future hold? Who knows? Dr. Lyne keeps telling me to run for president, but I believe there’s an age requirement…
What’s your favorite part about being a mentor?
Lyne: Watching students grow and achieve more than they thought was possible. Dreaming big with them and helping them envision and execute a plan in order to reach their goals.
Webb: Dr. Lyne is a big thinker – and I like to think I am too. Academically, she seeks to answer huge questions with major implication for politics around the world. Her lofty goals have inspired me to pursue my lofty goals and to never crack under the pressure of the challenge of solving tough problems.
How did you choose your field of study?
Webb: I never wanted to study anything other than political science. International relations and global economic issues fascinated me. I was unaware of the field of comparative political science, however, until I met Dr. Lyne and took her classes. That pretty much sold me and I spent most of the rest of my undergraduate career studying under her. This led me to my role with GlobeMed at UMKC and eventually to my two-summer stint doing community development in East Africa. That experience led me to my current job: I realized that if I understood the fundamentals of real estate, I could continue to build schools and hospitals that benefitted the most underserved but were also financially feasible and sustainable.
What are some things you admire about Dr. Lyne?
Webb: She’s brilliant but humble. My favorite poem is “If” by Rudyard Kipling in which the author proposes a number of “If, then” scenarios that he believes make a good person. There is a line there that says “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch” and that’s exactly what Dr. Lyne can do. Dr. Lyne would never claim to be above anyone, or treat him or her like they are not worthy; nor do I believe that the most influential or powerful would think treat Dr. Lyne as lesser. She’s an incredible human being who can appeal to anyone exactly as they are.
Some people go their whole lives without having a mentor. What advice would you give people about finding one?
Lyne: I think this varies depending on the student. For some, a passionate interest in similar issues is what forms the bond between mentor and mentee, and they might collaborate on research. Other students might identify with the professor’s background, and here the relationship might focus more around helping the student define their goals and identify future career possibilities. And probably in many cases, it is both. What is most important is a good relationship in which the student feels comfortable.
Webb: Put yourselves in situations where mentors believe they don’t have any other choice. Dr. Lyne and I would not have our relationship today if I hadn’t gone above and beyond to hunt her down and get the opportunities that she provided. That said, if you’re looking for mentorship, mentor someone, too. There is nothing that will make you a better mentee than being a mentor and anyone can do it. I am a Big Brother with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Kansas City and it is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.