Now Vollmer is paying it
forward as on-campus coordinator of activities for Mentoring@Purdue (M@P). “I
love helping students and faculty connect,” she says. Under the guidance of
Levon Esters and Neil Knobloch, program co-directors and faculty in the
Department of Youth Development and Agricultural Education, M@P fosters
mentoring relationships between underrepresented minority and female graduate
students and faculty or staff members in the College of Agriculture.
All the M@P team members have administrative duties in
addition to mentoring incoming graduate students and each other peer to peer. M@P focuses on academic advising and more; mentors are also
coaches, counselors, role models, and advocates.
Two other members of M@P’s
leadership team are Quincy Clark, coordinator of research initiatives, and Torrie Cropps, educational
outreach coordinator. Both
are doctoral students in YDAE, and both bring a commitment to mentorship based
on the influence of strong mentors in their own academic careers.
As a first-generation college
student in her family, Cropps knows what it’s like to navigate an unfamiliar
educational system, and she values M@P’s emphasis on culturally relevant
mentoring. “Especially in ag-related STEM disciplines, advisors have good
intentions but might not mentor underserved students effectively,” she says.
mentor at North Carolina A&T State University “really helped mold me,” she says. “When
I got to Purdue, it was apparent that not all graduate students who are
underrepresented in some fashion had the opportunities that I’ve had. It’s
important for students to see what mentoring should look like. If they come
here, they’ll have someone in their corner. And if they go somewhere else,
they’ll know what to look for.”
Clark, who completed her
undergraduate degree at the University of San Francisco and master’s at Purdue,
cites the influence of her own first mentor: “Vice
Chancellor Ron Coley helped
me to increase my capacity and raise my standards,” she says. “He expected
excellence! When I met Dr. Esters, I knew I’d found my Ron Coley at Purdue.”
M@P’s intent is to improve the quality of graduate education. To
that end, it sponsors a variety of
on-campus events to help faculty and graduate students use mentoring as a
strategy to navigate barriers underrepresented minorities face in higher
education. It also hosts a competitive Summer Scholars program that brings students
from 1890 land-grant universities to the Purdue campus for three days of interactive
workshops and culturally responsive activities. While some participants do apply to Purdue, the experience is more about building skills and
confidence to pursue graduate study in general.
M@P also maintains a collection of resources on mentoring. In
her role, Clark
seeks out opportunities to publish about the program and track scholarship that
team members generate for it.
Now, as she mentors others, she sees learning opportunities
in every problem-solving experience. “If there’s a problem that’s unfamiliar to
me, I’m going to do some research,” she explains. “So now I’ve learned
something in the process, and I’ve also helped someone. And they know they are
to pay it forward; that’s an unspoken rule.”