Faculty and staff mentor students to success
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’re introducing another regular feature: Dynamic Duos. In interviews and images, we’ll give you an intimate look at faculty/staff-and-student mentorship pairs at UMKC.
MEET ERIC GROSPITCH and KALAA WILKERSON
Kalaa Wilkerson graduated this month with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the School of Nursing and Health Studies. A nursing career is on the horizon.
She credits her mentor, Eric Grospitch, Dean of Students, with helping her find her way.
Wilkerson’s family has told her that her sexual orientation was caused by her mother’s death from breast cancer, and is a “phase” she will outgrow.
A conversation Wilkerson and Grospitch had during the spring semester alternated between playful: “On Twitter, what was that about, Kalaa?” And emotional: “My father didn’t acknowledge my partner, didn’t look at her.”
Where is UMKC taking you?
Wilkerson: UMKC is taking me down a glorious path towards my dream of becoming a nurse. UMKC is also taking me down a path of LGBT activism and standing up for what I believe in no matter if I am standing alone or with a group of people.
What changes have you seen in Kalaa?
Eric Grospitch: She has always been fantastic, but I would say I’ve seen more confidence out of her, both academically and personally. She has learned when to be “professional” and when to be more relaxed. It’s been really neat to watch. As an introvert, it is hard to be a public speaker, but I’ve watched her stand and share personal stories and information with large groups in a manner that required a significant level of courage, and she did it in amazing fashion.
How are you different now than when you first started at UMKC?
Wilkerson: When I first started UMKC, I was extremely shy and I did not know anyone, and of course I was immature as most freshmen are straight out of high school. Now I feel that I have grown into a wonderful person and I am finally able to complete my dream.
How did you choose your study path?
Wilkerson: I don’t believe that I chose my study path. I was born to take care of people in a health-care setting. Ever since I was a little child, health care is all I could talk about and so I strongly believe that is my God-given talent to care for people when they are at their lowest points in life.
What makes mentorship critical to the success of college students?
Grospitch: I think mentoring relationships are important to the undergraduate experience because they are often the first personal/professional relationships outside of a family unit that students have. This is a stage when students are looking to find themselves personally and professionally. Having someone outside of the family unit who can ask probing questions and encourage them to pursue their dreams is important.
How did you choose a mentor?
Wilkerson: I don’t believe that I chose my mentor either. After meeting Dean Grospitch when he first started working in the Student Union, I would periodically throughout the week walk down to his office to see if he was all settled in as the new dean. After weeks of that, we formed a bond and he has been my mentor ever since.
What are the benefits of having a mentor?
Wilkerson: A mentor is there to help you whenever you get stuck and you do not see a way out, or as if your problems are never-ending and will never be resolved. A mentor specifically caters to their mentees’ needs, so no two mentor/mentee relationships are alike.
What qualities make a good mentor?
Grospitch: Someone who is willing to listen and is authentic in the relationship. Mentoring is not about giving your story and assuming that the student can follow, but it is about helping the student find their own path and navigating all the bumps, cracks and crevices along the way.
What are some things you admire about Dean Grospitch?
Wilkerson: I honestly admire everything about my mentor! I admire his ambition and how he is so down to earth and humble. He wants nothing more than for students to succeed. He isn’t afraid to tell me like it is, and I need someone blunt like that in my life in order for me to see the big picture with whatever problem I am dealing with. I also like that he has an open-door policy as long as no one is cohabiting his office for other academic-related issues. He is always there as an advocate for the students and he is not afraid to show his love for students, and he is extremely involved around campus!
What’s your favorite part about being a mentor?
Grospitch: The best part is the relationship, being contacted on the good days as well as the bad. Helping students avoid pitfalls is great, but helping them recover is more rewarding.
Some people go their whole lives without having a mentor. What advice would you give people about finding one?
Grospitch: Find someone you connect with. It may not happen the first time. Don’t be afraid to request time with people you respect, or who are in positions that you aspire to. Listen to their story and feel the relationship out. If there is a connection, ask for the opportunity to stay in touch and continue to reach out and request guidance as appropriate. A good mentoring relationship is mutually beneficial.
Wilkerson: The advice that I would give people is, don’t go looking for a mentor; let the relationship build on its own. A mentor doesn’t have to be someone appointed to the position. The best relationships form when people aren’t forced into a role. A mentor could be your best friend, next door neighbor or teacher. If you have someone in your life who has always been your advocate even when it seems as though they didn’t need to be, then that person should be your mentor.