Monday, June 23, 2008

Meet My Mentor

I started hearing about NASPA long before I was a graduate student (actually, before I was even an undergraduate student). Before I knew what NASPA was, I was hearing about partnerships and conferences through some of my fellow trainers at the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI). I started training with NCBI as a high school student and have continued on for more than nine years now.

NCBI has a large campus affiliate program and at our national meetings I would hear reports from campus trainers about all of their cool work on campus. A few would talk about other organizations they were working with. NASPA came up frequently in that context and one trainer in particular, Lori Ideta, Ph.D., talked about the importance of her involvement in NASPA. Lori's commitment to giving back to her profession and professional organization, as well as her skills and knowledge of student life, impressed me.

When I applied to graduate school and told Lori that I was going into student affairs, she offered instant support and I am honored to call her my mentor. As I write this, Lori has just stepped into a new role, vice chancellor of student affairs, at the University of Hawai'i-West O'ahu. She shared some of her background and philosophy with me recently. (For grad students who may be feeling a little overwhelmed or uncertain about things, make sure to read her last answer.)

Michael Parrish: What drew you to student affairs?

Lori Ideta: Similar to many of our colleagues, I was not born with the goal of becoming a student affairs professional. I “fell” into the profession when I was exposed to wonderful student affairs staff as an undergraduate and graduate student. My first career path was elementary education. I soon learned that I could continue to be an educator – at the university level – by helping students shape their careers and life skills.

MP: What was your first job in student affairs? What has the path from that position to your current position included?

LI: I started as a student assistant in an office of academic advising and I was hooked. I loved the ability to assist students in their matriculation through college. My first full-time position in student affairs was working in the Dean of Students Office, as the assistant to the dean. This role entailed doing anything and everything the dean wanted and needed. What a great experience to empower me to become a student affairs generalist!

Similar to many women colleagues, my career path has been a “crooked” one as opposed to a straight line from an entry-level position to senior student affairs officer. I never dreamed of becoming a vice chancellor for student affairs. I remain amazed at how blessed I have been with mentors who have lifted me as I climbed and with the wonderful opportunities that have been put in my life journey.

MP: Who are you mentors and how did you get connected to them?

LI: Dr. Doris Ching, vice president for student affairs, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and Aunty Alberta Pualani Hopkins, retired interim dean of students, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa were both formal mentors. They both were trailblazers who were ahead of their times. As women, as Asian women, as women of color, they carved paths so that I, and others, could follow. Dr. Ching was one of the first Asian female vice presidents in higher education in the nation. As a student, she was my role model. Both she and Aunty Pua provided opportunities, formal and informal, professional and personal, to ensure my growth and development. To both of them, I am truly grateful.

I have also been blessed with numerous other mentors – colleagues, co-workers, staff, students – who have served as guides, sensei, and leaders to me. They are too numerous to mention, but they all hold a special place in my heart. It is important to note that a mentor does not need to be someone who is of a formal “higher” rank than you.

MP: You have been involved in knowledge communities within NASPA, especially the Asian Pacific Islanders Concerns Knowledge Community (API KC). Why is that work important to you and how does your identity inform your professional practice?

LI: I am so incredibly proud of my Asian heritage. As a Japanese American woman, the ability to now follow in the footsteps of Dr. Ching and Aunty Pua – to make paths so that others may follow, to lift others as I climb, is a true honor. From my cultural context, it is imperative that we give back to our people, that we nurture our own, that we are empowered to ensure the success of our own communities. It is with complete humility that I now assume the role of national co-chair of the API KC to, in some small way, attempt to return what has been so generously graced to me.

MP: Anything else you'd like to share with grad students in the field?

LI: Persevere. Be tenacious. Refuse to give in. Institutions of higher education were designed to be elitist and exclusive. They were built to “weed” people out. So, when you think you cannot continue, when you believe that you are done, when you rationalize that a graduate degree really is not that important, resist the desire to resign. Call a friend. Reach out to a mentor. Connect with a colleague. Have a melt down. Stomp your feet. Shout out. Cry a lot of tears. Then, get back to work. Once you attain your graduate degree, no one can take it away from you. It will probably be the most difficult academic endeavor of your entire life. But, it will be yours and yours alone. Graduate degrees are earned, not gifted. You can do this. And you will. The world needs you.

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