Minority recruiting is experiential education for both
Govinda Davis NU’07 and Jim Stellar
Govinda was a student at Northeastern University who, at the end of my time there as Dean, was the head of a student organization of some years duration called LEAD (Linking Education and Diversity). Over the years LEAD worked closely with the Admissions Office to bring in students of color from local Boston high schools, and eventually the University was able to give the Boston Public School students full scholarships. Northeastern University was rapidly rising in reputation and national reach, which naturally attracted many great candidates for admission from all over the Nation and the world. And the idea behind the LEAD program was to increase student representation from Boston High Schools and work toward a diverse student population. After Northeaster, Govinda went on to Law School at Seton Hall Law in New Jersey. She is now participating in the school’s entertainment law concentration with focus on intellectual property and copyright law in the music business.
Govinda, as a minority woman yourself, start off by telling us what motivated you to put in a great deal of time to LEAD back in the day?
One of the reasons why I dedicated so much time to LEAD was because it was a great cause. I thought it was extremely important to build mentoring relationships with students who are looking to further themselves through education. I remembered how I felt as a high school senior and not really knowing who to ask about my SAT scores or how many colleges to apply to. I did have my parents and high school guidance counselors, however, it would have been great to have someone to talk to who had just went through the process and could speak to some of the real questions that I had about college life and what to expect. I enjoyed organizing the LEAD program, however I really loved the relationships that I had with the high school students involved. Now, while in law school I find myself in a similar mentor role. Although, my participation is not as in depth as it was in LEAD, I act as a mentor to prospective students and first year students here at the law school. I believe that strong mentor relationships play an important role in academic, personal and professional growth.
It seems obvious that your personal commitment would be necessary to inspiring the students with whom you worked at LEAD, but I want you to talk about it. Put yourself in their place and tell me what you think they might have gotten out of mentorship from someone like you in that program. I hope that is not too weird.
I think the students in the LEAD program got the chance to speak with someone who was not much older than they were and talk to them about what college was really like and what to expect. I think the students benefitted from having someone there every week who genuinely cared about their progress and wanted to help them in any way that they could. I think it was also helpful for the diverse students in the program to see mentors from diverse backgrounds being role models and sharing their goals of higher education. In addition, most of the students were from large Boston public high schools where the teachers and guidance counselors were responsible for hundreds of students and could not spend much time helping each student individually. However, our mentor program was small and each mentor was only assigned 5 or 6 students so that each student could receive individualized help choosing colleges, filling out financial aid forms and writing a great college essay. In addition to the formal workshops, I think students also built great friendships with their mentors and with the other high school students in the program.
Thank you. How important is the positivity in the mentoring relationship? You were always a very positive person in these and every interaction.
I think that it is very important to be positive and open to all types of mentoring relationships. You never know who you are going to meet and what type if information they’ll be able to give you or the great relationships you are able to form. The best advice is to keep an open mind and be receptive to what mentors are willing to share with you. There are different types of mentors. Some people sign up for programs like LEAD or sign up for mentors through their work or school. In those situations people are trying to make the mentor relationship work but there are also accidental mentor/mentee relationship which grow out of a two people who have something in common and get along very well. Every mentor relationship is different but I think people genuinely want to help others if they can and if a mentor actually finds someone who listens to their advice and takes what they are saying to heart both parties can mutually benefit from a mentor relationship.
You used a word above, “heart,” that I think carries special meaning in higher education. Richard Light wrote a famous book “Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Minds” in 2001 that makes the same point that college students really want mentors. I used to stop there with my thinking, but now I see a connection to the other lobe of the brain in that famous Blaise Pascal 17th Century quote that I often cite “The heart has reasons of which reason does not know.” So, I would argue that it is not the logical mind of which we are so conscious and which education imbues with facts and theories that needs mentoring. It is what a recent author, Shankar Vedantam, called “The Hidden Brain” – that part of the brain that stores our gut-level decisions, going back to the founding blog based on the book by Damasio that gave rise to the blog’s title “The Other Lobe of the Brain.” This is why it is so important to have a student from a diverse background have at least some mentors who are from that background (as you also say). People make decisions that they can succeed in College, that College offers a path forward, that this is where they should put their time and energy. They do that on their own, but also with others. It becomes like family and that can make all the difference, as you also say, to both parties.