In a recent visit to Baltimore, I ate lunch with a group of Johns Hopkins University (JHU) graduate students. Dwight Schwartz (InterVarsity’s Graduate & Faculty Ministry Area Director for the MidAtlantic and Campus Staff Member at JHU) couldn’t wait to introduce me to Lisa, whose labors align so well with the passions and vision of the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). As a first year graduate student, Lisa organized a mentoring program in which graduate students serve as mentors for undergraduate students.
What the program is about: To increase the undergraduate-graduate interaction and to give undergraduates a Christian perspective about their future, the graduate Christian fellowship has started a mentoring program for students in the undergraduate Christian fellowship. This mentoring program is conducted almost exclusively through email and offers undergrads a chance to ask all sorts of questions about graduate school and careers to graduate students. Along with advice for how to apply and prepare for grad school, the mentors also provide spiritual support. The undergrad students are encouraged to ask their mentors about anything related to graduate school or getting a job or how they keep their Christian faith throughout there years in college. The graduate student mentors are encouraged to also tell about themselves and how they decided to go to graduate school and to connect their mentee to other grad students who can also help them with specific questions or share their grad school experiences. The mentors and mentees email each other approximately weekly. There are no requirements for meeting up or any mandatory activities.
What was Lisa’s inspiration?
I [Lisa] probably would not have decided to attend grad school without the academic and emotional support I received from a graduate student who encouraged me to have confidence and to serve God through my studies. Grad students are the academic role models for undergrads, and that can be either positive or negative; graduate students who make no time for others and do not conduct themselves in a Christ-like manner pass down a strong deleterious message to undergrads that they put their work above God. This can be so powerful that it may prevent Christian graduate students from pursuing advanced degrees. Although I had a wonderful informal graduate student mentor during my first years of college, I also experienced being led by demanding, uncaring, selfish grad students whose sour attitudes and godless outlook on earning their degree nearly stopped me from choosing to continue my education. Without the encouragement of Christian mentors who took the time to advise me and befriend me, I do not think I could have put my faith in God to carry me through grad school.
Mentoring from graduate students offers undergraduates not only a means of help for grad school preparation, but also for establishing a trusted relationship that can build confidence in a younger student.
Dwight, who has a PhD in Chemical Physics from U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, comments:
I am grateful that Lisa was willing to undertake this project. I think it can serve to strengthen some connections between the grad and undergrad IV chapters on our campus. More importantly, it has the potential to provide grad-school bound students with some key pieces of information about the world of grad school, from folks who have just learned, or just learned the hard way, about grad school, choosing a field, getting to school, finding an advisor, etc. I also think she [unwittingly] dovetailed nicely into what we are trying to do with ESN.
As I talked with Lisa over lunch, I realized that she was close to having created a Graduate Christian Fellowship (GCF) Mentor Program Guide. To bless other campuses, I asked her to assemble the material so that I could edit it for and post it on the ESN blog. Click here for a PDF of the first draft of the material. Thank-you Lisa! And a special thank-you to Natalie Tibbels (InterVarsity’s Undergraduate Ministry Team Leader in Baltimore/Western Maryland) who gave the experiment a shot with InterVarsity’s undergraduate fellowship at JHU (i.e., Hopkins Christian Fellowship).
Natalie, Dwight, and I think the program has a lot of potential to be significant for undergrads. Grad students (in general, but especially in related fields) have unique opportunities to speak into the lives of undergraduates. I’m sure Lisa, Natalie and Dwight share with me a desire to see opportunities/programs such as the GCF Mentor Program to dig deep and develop sustainability not just at JHU, but on campuses across the country. Furthermore, I’m excited to hear stories about what graduate students learn from undergrads, I’ve already heard one from JHU :) To God be the glory!