Dr. Carolyn M. Tucker’s Mentoring Style and Its Effectiveness in Doctoral Education
Mentoring Style. For many years I have described my mentoring style as empowerment-oriented, culturally sensitive, holistic, compassionate, and excellence driven. This is still the case; however, my graduate students have helped me see that another important aspect of my mentoring style is giving them support, encouragement, and priority, whether or not they want to become a researcher like me. This “unconditional supportive mentoring” has enabled many students to achieve success under adverse conditions that exist in their lives. It is thus this “unconditional supportive mentoring” that is now an added source of my mentoring pride.
Indeed, having been a mentor for over 30 years, I have learned that academic/research mentoring is insufficient without additionally giving the personal support and caring that students often need to cope with such challenges as not feeling a sense of belonging in their graduate program and dealing with financial, health, relationship, and family problems. Thus, my mentoring of students involves time-consuming but personally rewarding activities, such as periodically taking them to breakfast, lunch, or dinner to simply discuss their support needs and develop strategies for meeting these needs; finding time to meet with their parents and family members; arranging for them to receive a meal and/or groceries when they are ill; initiating meetings with them just to talk about whatever is on their mind; and always being available to them via my personal cell phone. I am most proud, however, of my atypical “going above and beyond mentoring,” which is exemplified by choosing to spend hours in emergency rooms and hospitals to be with students who become seriously ill, or choosing to spend eight consecutive months serving as a patient representative for a terminally-ill student because his parents did not speak English well and asked me to serve this role. Indeed, “going above and beyond mentoring” often is not easy, but as my grandfather told me repeatedly, “anything worth doing ain’t easy.” I strongly believe that this type of mentoring is indeed worth doing.
I am also deeply passionate about the more academic and research training aspects of my mentoring. These mentoring aspects involve actively and deliberately creating “real world” opportunities for my culturally diverse graduate students to actually engage in culturally sensitive research, teaching, mentoring, leadership, consultation, and community service. Many of these “real world” opportunities occur as part of my grant-funded community-participatory research programs to promote culturally sensitive health care and health promotion in racial/ethnic minority and low-income communities. Students report that these opportunities teach them valuable lessons about cultural differences and similarities, the need for culturally sensitive theories and research that reflect real-world realities, and ways to integrate intervention science into community settings—and to do so in a way that enables fidelity of the science while also fitting the science to the community structures and promoting structural justice in the intervention dissemination processes. These are lessons that cannot be learned in a textbook, but are important for the emerging generation of researchers and national leaders in any field who will have the challenge of working in an increasingly more diverse world. I continue to be surprised by the excitement with which my graduate students embrace these lessons.
The ways in which my graduate students (who I call my research associates) participate in one of my two current community-based/participatory research projects may help convey how I strive to empower them to be able to become culturally sensitive and first-rate researchers, teachers, mentors, leaders, consultants, and community service providers. This project is my grant-funded community-based Health-Smart Church Project, which aims to promote health behaviors and reduce body-mass index levels among African American women and their families. Members of both my Behavioral Medicine Research Team (which currently includes 4 graduate students, 30 undergraduate students, and 2 community members) and my Health Psychology Research Team (which currently includes 4 graduate students and 25 undergraduate students) co-direct and implement this project. The experiences of the graduate students (who have empowering titles such as Director of Data Management) include assisting with writing the grant that funded the project, attending African American church services to recruit research participants and then collecting data from them after church, conducting health promotion workshops for project participants, setting up participants’ churches to be health promotion centers, training church leaders and pastors to be health empowerment coaches, and training and co-mentoring undergraduate students to assist with all aspects of the project. I initially assumed major leadership in all of these activities, and then gradually turned over this leadership to my graduate students as I increasingly assumed the primary role of observing, supporting, and praising them, and promoting their self-empowerment for success. The latter is anchored in my self-empowerment model of achievement (Tucker, 1999) which asserts that the goal of education is to promote self-motivation to learn, self-control in the learning process, self-praise of success efforts and outcomes, skills and experiences for goal achievement, and success behaviors (such as asking for wanted and needed support).
Evidence of Mentoring Effectiveness. There is much evidence of the effectiveness of my mentoring style, including the following: (a) I have received numerous cards, letters, and gifts from graduate student mentees and their parents thanking me for mentoring them; (b) of the 21 graduate students whose dissertations I chaired over just the past 10 years, 4 received highly competitive CLAS Outstanding Dissertation Awards, 3 received Landsman Outstanding Student Awards, 2 received Outstanding International Student Awards, 1 received an Outstanding Graduate Student Teacher Award, and 2 received external outstanding research awards; (c) all but 1 of the 12 graduate student mentees whose Master’s or Dissertation Committee I presently chair have presented research papers at national/regional conferences, and all but 1 have refereed research publications; and (d) of the 33 graduate student mentees who have received their PhD degree under my supervision, 21 are employed at universities—6 are associate or full professors in academic departments (1 is a department chair), 14 are psychologists at university counseling/mental health centers, 2 are the recipients of large NIMH grants, and 1 was recently an NIMH Research Fellow. Additionally, 84% of these 33 graduated mentees are engaged in research or have job-related and/or profession-related leadership roles, and most are also engaged in community service.
Two other strong indicators of my mentoring effectiveness are the extraordinarily large number of graduate students who have chosen me as their Master’s and/or Dissertation research mentor/chairperson, and the cultural diversity represented by these students. Specifically, I have had 50 graduate student mentees receive Master’s degrees and 50 receive PhD degrees under my supervision. Among my students, over 40% are racial/ethnic minorities. Currently, I officially serve as a mentor and committee chair for a culturally diverse group of 8 graduate or doctoral students (3 Whites, 2 Blacks, 1 Asian, and 2 Hispanic), among whom are 5 doctoral candidates.
I am extremely proud of the diversity and large number of the graduate students whom I have mentored and of their impressive research and career success. I am most proud, however, that I have empowered majority students and minority students with learning experiences that will enable them to do their life’s work “with an ear for the beat of different hearts.”