The power of mentoring
Our world is pieced together by a million stories, memories that flow into a pool of words and images that often carry us through our lives as little bright lights of inspiration. When you sit in on a conversation between two people you are given the gift of being transported into that slice of life, that place and time that made such a difference in their lives.
In October, StoryCorps traveled to Anaheim, CA, for the SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Latinos and Native Americans in Science) conference. There, StoryCorps was witness to the encouragement and support that was a common thread through many of the 18 conversations recorded – mostly between students and their mentors.
Many of the students are now in graduate school, but had warm memories of the people who supported them the most during their undergrad years. There were a lot of tears and frequent gales of laughter during these conversations.
Andrea Gomez, who is Laguna and Pueblo, is a graduate student at New York University specializing in science research. She came in with her former mentor and now-friend Arlene F. Nededog. The two met when Andrea first came to Colorado State University from Las Cruces, NM.
“I came in with no expectations besides to do well in school. I never imagined I would be in New York as a grad student,” said Gomez.
Nededog told her: “It was really exciting to see you develop and grow over all these years.”
Gomez remembers her culture shock after arriving at CSU. “When I first came to Fort Collins I didn’t know what to expect. I came from a society where I was used to a lot of Hispanics/Latinos being integrated in all levels. When I went to (CSU) I felt like a minority. I never expected to feel ‘brown.’ All of a sudden I became the ‘spokesperson’ of my tribe.”
She told Nededog, “I felt isolated. When I met you in the program and the Native American student services, I was drawn to the familial environment that you guys provided and feeling like I could just be myself and be relaxed.”
Gomez recalled her lean undergrad years. “I remember going over to your office to steal some candy because that would be my lunch. Between classes, I had physics classes, I would think: ‘I’m starving right now and I would think and think, where can I get some free food?’ And then I would remember ‘Arlene’s office, I can go and get some candy there.’ That would give me enough energy to get through the next class.”
Said Nededog, “and I laugh because I still have a jar of candy on my desk and everybody always partakes of it.”
And, like all good mentors, Nededog demonstrated that she really listened to her mentee.”I remember one day we were talking and you had run out of money and said you didn’t have any food, and I went home and brought you groceries and thought ‘oh, she should never be without food.’ ”
“I remember that I didn’t have any money. Maybe seven cents,” said Gomez, “I had scoured my home for pennies to buy something to eat. I was eating oatmeal for a week straight. I didn’t want to come to you out of pride. You came to my apartment and dropped off groceries and I lived on that for two weeks. And then you helped me get a scholarship that provided for pretty much everything. It gave me my financial stability for the rest of the time I was in school.”
Nededog asked, “Did you ever imagine that when you left New Mexico to Fort Collins, Colorado that you would be where you’re at now? And now, to see you on the other side, recruiting students.”
And they smiled at each other.
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