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The importance of mentors to college students

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Success can stem from a number of things, including the a good attitude and work ethic, being at the right place at the right time and the often-forgotten asset of having a mentor to help us learn.

I sometimes wonder if we often give too much credit to hard work. While hard work is a key component to being successful, the lesser known players in an individual’s life — especially a successful individual’s life — are sometimes forgotten.

A strong support structure (often family members), academic credentials, the choices we made at different crossroad and the folks we regarded and listened to — and those we didn’t listen to — are often the things that shape success.

We may call them friends, guides, philosophers, mentors or shrinks. An interesting logical thread is they’re often people who stay abreast with our inner growth and have often helped us gaze willingly or unwillingly into the mirror and to help us identify our flaws.

Which brings us to the big, flawed world we are living in. Often these flaws turn into our idiosyncratic characteristics, quintessential features that set us apart from the crowd we are marching on with, ahead or against.

According to a 2011 study by the Institute of Higher Education Policy, mentoring for college students helps students feel more connected and engaged on campus, ultimately improving students’ outcomes.

Around the time I signed up for ‘Get Involved’ campaign at UH, there were also options to academically mentor students younger to us. It brought back memories of many mentors through different phases of life who steered me to the right direction and who were available with a “yes” or “no” when it was much needed.

Of the two particular mentors I am forever grateful for in my life, one remains a friend and another is the go-to person for all my professional and academic queries.

I recall attending the class of UH Law Center Professor Ronald Chichester. He fondly recollected at the end of his lecture why it is so important for an individual to have a mentor, saying that having a mentor helped him become a better engineer than he had been before starting law school. He credited his mentor as the reason for being a successful attorney.

Given that so much of our post-adult life is about creating an identity, it is not confounding for one to wonder where to hold — rather, which part of ourselves to project — when it comes to putting our best foot forward to the rest of the world. Through times of turbulence or tumult, having the right kind of mentor can be the silver lining and the light at the end of the tunnel.

Pop culture is full of references of mentoring: Gandalf for Frodo, Dumbledore to Harry Potter, Mel Gibson to Heath Ledger, Madonna to Gwyneth Paltrow, and Audrey Hepburn to Elizabeth Taylor.

Mentors are our reference points who constantly drive us, connect us and help us reach out. For most part of the entire process, the biggest challenge would be to understand what kind of mentor we need.  One might wonder if it’s a critical strategy, it is for most part.

According to Forbes, having a mentor is a tradition that has been around since the dawn of time. A mentor who is self-reflective, discreet, honest, curious and generous can be a game-changer.

The impartial neutral person we now have to look up to might have more to offer to our life.

The fine art of mentoring deals with development emotionally rather than intellectually, because so much of mentoring is about giving and selflessly giving further.

Opinion columnist Valli Challa is a law graduate student and may be reached at [email protected]

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