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Graduate Students Sharpen Leadership Skills in GSAS Mentoring Program

Mentor Emily McSpadden coaches student members of the Fordham choir in an exercise to relax the jaw while singing.  Photo by Ken Levinson

Mentor Emily McSpadden coaches student members of the Fordham choir in an exercise to relax the jaw while singing.
Photo by Ken Levinson

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) is applying a unique tool to help mentor undergraduate clubs and activities—its talented pool of graduate students.

The GSAS Mentorship Program, which got underway this semester, matches graduate students as mentors with undergraduate clubs and groups through the Office of Student Leadership and Community Development (OSL&CD). The idea behind the program, according to Nicol Gotsis, director of GSAS student development, is to build leadership skills among graduate students while offering undergraduates more opportunities to work with mentors.

“We see the graduate students as role models for their younger colleagues,” Gotsis said. “And the graduate students are learning how to deal with groups in a leadership capacity. They’ve not had that practice before.”

Emily McSpadden, a doctoral candidate in applied developmental psychology, is one of four graduate students chosen for the program. She is mentoring the Fordham University Concert Choir. McSpadden, who was a voice major at Baylor University before pursuing a doctorate in psychology, said mentoring is helping to prepare her for her ultimate goal of becoming a professor.

“I see myself teaching college at this level, so as a mentor, I can get a grip on what interacting with this group is like from a teaching standpoint,” McSpadden said. “Undergrads have a tendency to look at professors as somewhat far-removed. When I teach, I want students to feel like they can come and talk. When mentoring, you have to learn, trial-by-fire, leadership skills.”

The all-volunteer program also gives graduate students an opportunity to participate in activities that draw mostly undergraduates. A longtime singer in choirs and choruses, McSpadden already was familiar with the choir, and jumped at the chance to be its mentor. Choir Director Robert Minotti, who had occasionally used McSpadden as a soloist, was thrilled to have an extra pair of hands with musical knowledge.

“Her [vocal]training might be somewhat different than mine,” Minotti said. “She can offer the students another model of technique, and give them some choice.”

Lastly, McSpadden sees value in helping undergraduates decide whether they want to pursue graduate education. “They can talk to someone in the thick of it,” she said.

The other pilot mentors include: Andrea Sturm, doctoral candidate in cellular and molecular biology, mentoring the Laennec Society; Christopher Rice, doctoral candidate in philosophy, mentoring the Ignatius Society; and Aline Ramos, master’s candidate in philosophy, mentoring Alpha Mu Gamma. The program is currently in its pilot stage. If successful, the GSAS and OSL&CD will expand it in the fall.

“This is an exciting new partnership,” said Jennifer Mussi, assistant dean for OSL&CD. “We hope our student leaders benefit from having a graduate student mentor who shares similar interests.”


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