“From There to Here: The Experience Mentor”

In my new role as assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma, I find students constantly approach me for career and life advice; specifically, to help mentor them for a career like mine.

I’d love to tell them I had a vision for my future as an academic, or that I intended to end up where I did. But that’s not really the case.

There have certainly been strong people helping me along the way. I have smart and supportive parents. I had good teachers in school. And when I came to college I found a host of professors who were inspirational and empowering.

But I can’t point to just one faculty member, friend or colleague whose career or life I wanted to emulate. Instead I can point to an experience.

My college experience.

The moment I began my freshman year, the world seemed open and limitless. I could take any class. Travel anywhere. Be anything.

I was encouraged by the opportunity to start with just an interest. I chose an English degree without fear of the job market. That interest led me to choose a study abroad program, which sparked a passion for social change. So after college, I was interested in working at a nonprofit. My work sparked an interest in a master’s degree, which sparked an interest in teaching, which lead me to a Ph.D.

Each interest led to another. And it all started with stepping on campus my freshman year and thinking only about what interested me.

And that is what has driven me in life. Small incremental pursuits of passion.

I often wonder if I ended up where I did because I’m trying to recapture my experience in college. Perhaps I am. Because sometimes the best mentor is not having a person to look up to, but rather an experience to look back on.