When I was 18 I reached out to my first mentor. I was a community college freshman who would have rather been Medill or Mizzou. He was a very young editor at an unnamed online news site.I wanted to be him.
So I sent an email to him, which I have an excerpt of below:
I really admire your work, but I admire your honesty on social media even more. I'm still trying to balance between being a journalist and being a person. I also want to work in newsroom management as an editor like you one day.
Do you have any advice for me as I build my "brand?"
And for some reason, he replied. A friendship was born, as he gave me tips on my writing, my online presence, and even on how to not make a fool out of myself while interviewing people who I knew were not taking me seriously.
Now after years of meeting professionals , older students, and professors, I could stuff all of my mentors in a room. They’re scattered across the world (I can say world when one of them lives in Canada, right?)
They’ve all taught me different things, spanning across a variety of mediums. One taught me how to create extensive spreadsheets with Excel. One watched me tap dance in an empty newsroom after I got my first big interview. One even taught me how to contour my face - not that I ever do it, but I at least know how to do it now.
I have so many good things to say about every single one of them - even if we’ve never actually met in person. That’s why I was so scared when I became a TA in the Fall. Even with years of listening to advice, in no way did I feel qualified to give it.
The first time a student came to my office hours I broke from the robotic TA mode for a second -
“This is my first time doing this,” I said to her while I looked through a packet.
“I think you’re doing well,” she smiled.
Today I watched that first student, Morgan, find out she won one of those College AP Awards. We posed for this photo - me, her, and a man who has mentored and taught both of us, Forrest Smith. As I went to grab lunch, it dawned on me - “my kids” are growing up. Forrest gave me the same look the first time I got picked up by NPR.
I think I’m getting pretty good at being a mentor. I’ve mentored about 45 Radio 1 students. Two of them won College AP Awards on Saturday. Two others were finalists. Two got the wrap they worked on together picked up by NPR. They’ve got great internships heading their way. Even though some days I want to scold them, most days I say “That’s my student.”
Even if they drive me crazy some days - like that time one called me crying about a project while I was on a first date. I answered the phone instead of talking to the very nice, but very confused guy sitting across from me. Needless to say, there wasn’t a round two.
Mentoring isn’t easy. It’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. But it’s been so rewarding to watch my students learn - and I hope my mentors feel the same about me.