Under the right conditions, mentoring will snowball.
One of the simplest pleasures I have is turning on the radio and hearing the voice of Frank Shiers (’77 Communications), a Seattle deejay working the mid-day shift on MIX 92.5. I’ve known Frank since high school, and his influence on me was so profound, it’s the main reason I went to Washington State University.
My family does not have a long history of higher education, and Frank was nearly the only role model I had for showing me the way through a bachelor’s degree. But since then, things have changed for new students at WSU. Recognizing the value of mentoring, WSU has implemented a variety of formalized programs enabling students to realize success.
One of the oldest of these mentoring programs lives in the Office of Multicultural Student Services. “Each year we hire and train 22 successful students to formally mentor both freshman and transfer students new to the University. The mentors first contact their assigned mentees during the summer via a personalized post card. They meet the day before classes and stay in regular contact throughout the year. Once the mentees become sophomores, the mentor is no longer obligated—but often the relationship continues for years,” explained Steve Nakata, director.
Over at the Honors College, the mentoring program is completely student-driven. Conceived and implemented by undergraduates Anita Afzali ’01 and Christine Schuck ’03 four years ago, the program is strictly volunteer. “It’s a unique, selfless program, because there’s no money or course credit involved,” said Libby Walker, assistant dean.
Under the right conditions, mentoring will snowball. Using the multicultural program as an example, the Future Teachers of Color (FTOC) program in the College of Education was born in 1994. Later, James Taylor (’63 Education), a now-deceased Bellevue music teacher, saw a PBS broadcast describing the FTOC and was inspired to donate a $187,000 endowment. There’s no doubt the FTOC mentoring component played a huge part in the gift. Taylor was so beloved for the face-to-face time he spent with his students, one of them named her daughter after him.
Last year, the first scholarship recipients from the Washington State Achievers Program marched onto college campuses statewide. Partnering with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Washington Education Foundation (WEF) created the achievers program for highly-motivated low-income students chosen from Washington high schools with large percentages of low-income students. Forty-one of these students chose to attend WSU.
Money doesn’t guarantee success though, and the program creators knew it. The achievers are perhaps the most intensely mentored college students in Washington. All have campus mentors to assist them through all four years, and community mentors in their hometowns as well. It’s interesting to note that more than one-third of the WEF directors have ties to WSU, President Emeritus Sam Smith among them. Is it a coincidence that a program so crammed full of mentors has WSU folk working in the shadows? Probably not.
To me, mentoring captures perfectly the “pay it forward” ethic of being a Cougar. I can’t possibly count the ways I was pulled out of figurative ditches during my days in Pullman. My list of mentors includes Gail Rowland and Karen Curtis Erp of Human Resource Services, a small army of fine people at WSU Libraries, and an editor in the Caroline Cooper building.
But Frank Shiers will always hold the title of my longest-running WSU mentor. Whenever I see him, he checks in about my job, my writing, offering advice and encouragement. When I switch on the radio to hear him, it’s not the sound of Top 40 hits that I’ve come for. I’m there for a voice that fires me up to go out into the world and exceed yesterday’s personal best. It’s the sound of someone saying, “Go, Coug!”