One of the joys of graduate faculty status is professionally mentoring promising graduate students. Deans (or at least this dean), sadly, get to do far too little of it. Recently I experienced a happy exception, when a social work student nominated by her faculty for a major professional award – the “Master of Social Work Student of the Year,” selected by the Mississippi Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers – asked me to do a letter of support.
Now, I had had Ms. Bethany Kent in a field education seminar last semester, and currently have her in a social services agency management course, but I could hardly say that I knew her well enough to write a worthy, let alone compelling, letter on her behalf. An interview was clearly in order.
It was then, during the interview, that I was struck by how rarely I have the opportunity for such conversations, and reminded of how satisfying they can be. I learned much about this promising young professional woman, about her background, her talents, her convictions, her commitments, her achievements and her aspirations. We exchanged views on how the future might unfold, both career-wise for her, and for our increasingly threatened profession. I was impressed, and said so in the letter, which I sincerely hope will help secure Ms. Kent a deserved recognition. The social work faculty clearly nominated well.
I also learned (or more accurately, remembered) how valuable this kind of engagement can be – for the faculty at least much as the student.