Our son Daniel has always been the type of person to make things happen. He met his mentor, Dr. Sabine Heinhorst, after taking a serious interest in the eighth-grade science fair. Daniel resolved to “be brave” and simply ask Dr. Heinhorst, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), in person if she would help him with his project. At first, Dr. Heinhorst was taken aback by Daniel’s directness and honest interest in science. Since then he has been working in a university lab under her guidance.
During his senior year Daniel was able to get Advanced Placement credit for his research by completing several rigorous requirements and participating in the Distinguished Scholar Program, designed for select students pursuing independent research projects. His technical skills and independence in the lab have surpassed those of even the most talented graduate students. He has already published one of his studies in a major journal and has presented his work to university scientists and professors at a conference. The benefits of this kind of exposure at such a young age have been incredible for Daniel.
Outgoing students with a strong interest in any subject should consider a mentorship.
Being under a mentor’s wing is not for the average student. Even though Daniel was capable of coping with stress, he did have some trouble managing the rigors of high school and the expectations of completing quality research. Although we always encouraged Daniel, we tried to let him work out his problems on his own. It was important to us that he learn to be independent and handle his own mistakes. As he matured, Daniel mastered the art of balancing a schedule and learned to just say no to some activities and events.
Outgoing students with a strong interest in any subject should consider a mentorship. Both child and parent might want to think about the following first:
- Make sure that your child is willing to devote time to a mentor. After all, mentors are not paid for their services and expect commitment from their protégés.
- Find a mentor whom you trust, both professionally and personally. Your child and his or her mentor will be spending a lot of time together, and the mentor should support your family’s values.
- When looking for an expert, go to where the experts are. Universities, community colleges, research institutions, businesses, and other professional settings are good places to look.
- Encourage your child to meet the mentor in person. This initial contact is crucial to a strong mentor- student relationship. If your child is shy, you might invite the mentor to dinner, providing a setting that stimulates conversation yet is relaxed and stress free for all parties. Your child should feel comfortable and able to talk freely.
- Set up a “trial run” with your child and the mentor. Once again, make sure that your child participates in all meeting arrangements. If you find that your child is not enjoying the experience, maybe you should look for another mentor. Of course, it may be that a mentorship is just not for your child.
- Talk with your child about this new responsibility in an adult manner. Make sure that your child understands his or her responsibility. Most important, emphasize that he or she should enjoy it.
- Let your child become independent. By being with a mentor, your child will develop a sense of importance and capability.
- Let your child work out and learn from his or her own problems and mistakes.
Daniel is on his way to USM this fall, having chosen to go there mostly because of the presence of his mentor. By having access to the resources that she offered him, Daniel has completed graduate-level research. He is one of only ten entering freshmen at USM on full scholarship and will be the youngest undergraduate research assistant that USM has seen in some time. Daniel has also won money from several science competitions. These are just the tangible benefits of a mentorship. The greatest value has come from the pride Daniel feels and the communication and research skills he has developed.
—Charles Murin and Debbie Murin
The Murin family lives in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Charles holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from USM and is a senior manager at the Sunbeam Corporation. Debbie earned her RDH certification from Pearl River Community College and works as a dental hygienist. Daniel will attend USM this fall and plans to major in biochemistry with ACS certification, with a possible minor in music performance on trumpet.