Outstanding Mentors

For many AU students, faculty mentors are an important part of the educational experience. Faculty work closely with students to help them identify academic and professional opportunities and to facilitate connections in their fields of interest. Many faculty find mentorship to be a significant and meaningful aspect of being a scholar-teacher. Read on to learn how several AU professors approach mentorship and how you can benefit from their expertise as you discover and achieve your goals.

Jane Hall

Jane Hall

Associate Professor, School of Communication
My area of expertise is journalism and media studies, including politics and media, young people and politics, and popular culture.

The key to mentoring students is to get to know their strengths and interests through their work in class and by listening to them one on one. I ask students what they'd ideally like to do with their lives—a big question, but one they have to let themselves answer aloud so they can figure out what steps they might take to pursue their dreams. I also share ideas to help them think broadly and strategically about how to pursue opportunities.

You have to be realistic, of course—you have to do well in your classes so your professors know you and your work and then you have to get a job, internship, or fellowship or be admitted to graduate school in a competitive marketplace. But we have great resources and programs, including the Dean's Internship program and other opportunities within the School of Communication and the AU Career Center. We also have a great track record with employers, and it is a pleasure for faculty to “match-make” a great student with a great opportunity.

I think all of us professors love having a former student come by and tell us that the thing students complained about most—in my case, covering a Congressional hearing and in-depth reporting—was the very thing they were asked to do in their first job and what they've most put to use in their career.

One aspect of AU that I value most is…
…supporting students here and beyond AU is deeply embedded in our culture. Faculty and staff are devoted to students, and that connection is important.

David Haaga

David A. F. Haaga, PhD

Professor and Chair, Department of Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences
I specialize in cognitive behavior therapy for cigarette smoking and in trichotillomania.

I have been working closely with students in our clinical psychology PhD program since I came to AU in 1989. The psychologists who completed their dissertations under my supervision are a great source of pride to me, and serving as their mentor has been the most satisfying aspect of my career. 

Students’ needs do not end at graduation. Often, questions about a first job turn into questions about tenure, research grants, license eligibility, or other professional opportunities. Each student has unique talents, so it is important to be flexible about their desired career paths. 

I try to connect students and alums with opportunities to expand their skills and become immersed in the field. Whether collaborating on a book chapter, enlisting their help as junior clinical co-supervisors, or passing along an opportunity to edit a special journal issue, I try to stay a step ahead of where they are in their professional development.

Graduate students are at an exciting point in their careers, as they figure out their places in the world and determine the strengths they will use to make a contribution. Witnessing, and sometimes influencing, that process is a great privilege.

One thing I love about mentorship in clinical psychology is…
…there is such a wide range of career paths open to each student: research, teaching, clinical practice, program development, clinical supervision, and often a combination of several. The existence of many ways to be successful and to have an impact in our field is an important strength.

Evan Berry

Evan Berry, PhD

Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy and Religion, College of Arts and Sciences
My scholarly focus is religion and the environment. I am especially interested in the role of faith-based organizations in tackling climate change.

Teachers are at their best when they are also learners. Students thrive when they see their professors meet the same expectations, respond positively to critical feedback, or change their minds in light of new information. Being treated as fellow participants in a broader project of academic inquiry brings out the best in all learners.

In my teaching and mentoring, I strive to help students make connections between their course work and the real-world problems and challenges they confront. Sometimes, philosophy gets a bad rap as being excessively abstract. Despite that reputation, ethics is a critical skill in today’s globalizing world, and students flourish personally and professionally as they improve their skills for analyzing and working through complex moral issues.

The problems at the center of my research and teaching (the ethics of climate change, the place of religion in international affairs, etc.) are already topics of great concern to students at AU.

AU is one of the few schools where…
…the research activity of a large university is linked with the teaching culture of a liberal arts college. This provides great opportunities for students to see the faculty’s intellectual activities up close.

Amy Eisman

Amy Eisman

Director of Media Entrepreneurship and Facilitator of JoLT (Journalism Leadership Transformation), School of Communication
My area of focus is journalism, digital journalism, media entrepreneurship, and journalism education.

My philosophy of mentoring is that it is not only my job to help students, but my pleasure as well. I know it sounds obvious, but their success is our success. It is not a cookie-cutter process; everyone’s needs are different. We will talk about confidence if a student is shy (I have a book I hand out). If he or she is looking for another job, I may connect the student with a recent alum or review an online portfolio. We may role-play an interview (that’s always fun). You never know who may come to your door. 

We like to connect former students with each other because AU makes people take notice. We also use closed Facebook groups, set up for weekend graduate cohorts and other classes, to post job and internship notices. The poor alums are never out of our clutches, actually: we invite them back as speakers or even adjuncts one day. 

I think the mentoring relationship is most important if built on mutual trust. Often, students are more relaxed when I share the many goofy mistakes I’ve made in my career. I’ve had my ups and downs, and they should know that is OK.

One great benefit to AU is that…
…AU is in DC, one of the hotbeds of the media world. Washington is also becoming a creative center for entrepreneurship. We seed our students all over.

Nate Harshman

Nate Harshman, PhD

Associate Professor and Department Chair, Physics, College of Arts and Sciences
I am a mathematical physicist, studying the relationship between symmetry and quantum information theory.

As a mentor, the most important thing is listening. What are students interested in? What do they like doing? A science degree can lead to many career paths, but most students don’t know about all the possibilities. 

We have a lot of information that you can’t Google, and we know how to connect students with opportunities to explore possible future careers. We have colleagues and collaborators across DC, the country, and the world. We know the funding agencies, the internship programs, and the grad schools. And we want to help!

It is so easy to have a big, positive impact. All you have to do is listen, and then think creatively about how to provide students with information, resources, and opportunities. One of my favorite experiences was working with a student who is now a tenure-track professor at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, researching ways to transform solar energy into chemical fuel.

I relate to students because…
…I was a double major in physics and English as an undergrad, and I did a lot of theater, too. As a result, I think I can relate to students with interdisciplinary interests and help them find a path that allows them to flex all their intellectual muscles.

Jody Gan

Jody Gan, MPH, CHES

Instructor, School of Education, Teaching, and Health and the Public Health Program, College of Arts and Sciences
As a public health practitioner in DC, I specialize in health promotion, health communication, and community outreach.

I love sharing my passion with students considering a career in health and connecting them with colleagues in areas that may be a good fit with their interests. It's helpful for students to see the connection between their coursework and how it could play out in their careers. I also want to make sure that public health students make the most of their required internship and choose one that will be especially interesting and rewarding.

I recently had the pleasure of teaching the Public Health capstone class, where the focus is on preparing for meaningful work after graduation. Students work in small groups on semester-long projects for real clients. I offered my technical assistance and really enjoyed sharing tools of the trade.

One group presented their work on curbing hunger among preschoolers in DC at AU's Mathias Student Research Conference and won an award. It also was thrilling to get emails from two capstone students informing me they had been selected for prestigious, paid fellowships with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

My favorite part of helping students achieve their career goals is…
…when an organization requests another wonderful AU student to serve as an intern and when students are offered a job as a result of their internship. I was so pleased to invite a December 2014 grad who just landed a great job to participate in a career panel in February!

Kiho Kim

Kiho Kim, PhD

Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Environmental Science, College of Arts and Sciences; Director, AU Scholars Program
I am a marine ecologist, studying the role of diseases in marine ecosystems and the synergistic effects of environmental factors, such as nutrient pollution and climate change, in the degradation of coral reefs.

I work with students to understand their goals, develop a range of possible pathways to achieve them, and support them in whichever path they choose. With the benefit of faculty members’ insight and experiences, our students are better able to navigate the increasingly competitive and complex world.

My favorite part of helping students achieve their career goals is seeing them take ownership of their work and really think about their future. Seeing them learn from the process of applying for fellowships and scholarships and become more confident is equally rewarding.

Some of my favorite success stories include one of my first graduate students at AU, who went on to get his PhD at Cornell and is now an assistant professor at Hong Kong University. Several have gone on to medical schools and one went on to an MD/PhD program.

I have also had students receive scholarships or fellowships from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Environmental Protection Agency, National Science Foundation, Udall, and Fulbright.

I am very appreciative of…
…the work of AU’s Office of Merit Awards, which aids students in identifying and going after scholarship opportunities. They are an incredible resource for both students and faculty.

Christine B. N. Chin

Christine B. N. Chin, PhD

Professor, School of International Service
My research and teaching interests include political economy, cultural studies, and transnational migration. 

I mentor in some of the best ways that I was mentored as a student: success comes not just from hard work, but from the courage to accept and address one's weaknesses and to never be deterred by failure. Failure is nothing but the opportunity to learn differently. In return, I ask students to mentor others as they build their careers.

My colleagues and I believe that students are not mere numbers on a roster or names in a database. An important part of our mission as educators is to provide the kind of context that encourages and supports students' growth and success within and beyond classrooms. It is an opportunity and privilege for me to bear witness to their growth as young adults and professionals—the ways in which they come into their own and find their voices, so to speak. 

What I can say is this: behind every successful AU student's story are a good number of individuals, from the primary faculty advisor and colleagues, to staff members in different administrative units, as well as students' peer network.

One of the best aspects of mentorship at AU is…
…faculty and staff collaboration in mentoring students. Together, we provide a knowledgeable, supportive network that encourages students to succeed beyond their expectations.

Ken Conca

Ken Conca, PhD

Professor of International Relations, School of International Service
My research and teaching focus on global environmental governance: environment, conflict, and peacebuilding; international institutions; and environmental protection as a human right. 

I’m a big believer in active learning. Students aren’t vessels to be filled; good teaching and mentoring are first and foremost about activating their enthusiasm. 

At its best, a college education is more than just a string of classes. I haven’t taken a class in decades, and I’m still learning every day. I rely on colleagues to help me make sense of what I’m learning and, more importantly, how it matters for the planet and its people. I try to play that same role for my students. 

I enjoy watching the trajectory of a student’s progress. We talk about their interests, identify good classes, look at internship options, and weigh options for study abroad. As they advance, we may work together on a research project. 

I’ve been fortunate to travel with my students to conduct team research. We’ve gone to Costa Rica to evaluate the carbon offsets AU is purchasing there. A member of that team is now working with the World Resources Institute. We’ve worked in Israel and Palestine, partnering with local groups trying to build peace through water cooperation. A student from that project is now with the Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution. 

We do a great job of…
… getting students engaged outside the classroom. AU students are inclined to get involved and make a difference—what they need is advice about where to point their energy and a sense of how to build a strong combination of perspective, knowledge, and skills to create positive social change.

Tiffany Speaks

Tiffany Speaks

Senior Director, Center for Diversity & Inclusion, Office of Campus Life
My commitment to student success is based on the intersectionality of identity and holistic development.

I strive to meet students where they are and to coach them to where they want to be. I do my best to make sure they have an open door to express their uncertainties as well as their aspirations. I’m committed to providing a space for critical thinking, questioning, and discovery. 

For many students navigating their college experience, faculty/staff become a trusted resource as students explore and learn. Within the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, we have great appreciation that students might be wonks, but they are more likely wonks in the making. Supporting students includes allowing space for students to admit opportunities for growth and to say, “I don’t know.” 

While students yearn for a clear path, I most appreciate the twist and turns of the pathways. My own career goals were guided by many questions and opportunities for hands-on learning. When one focuses on learning and development, rather than only on salary, the opportunities can be endless. When students visit my office, they see several degrees on the wall and photos from travels all over the world. 

When I share my story, which isn’t one of access or wealth, students tell me they are inspired. All-American Weekend is another one of my favorite experiences. Students, families, and members of the alumni community nearly knock me over with hugs and verbalization of gratitude. These moments are the reminders that I’m doing the right work at the right time at the right institution.

AU faculty and staff are…
…committed to being better educators and dedicate time and resources to improve their understanding of the needs of today’s students.

Bill Davies

Bill Davies, PhD

Assistant Professor, Department of Justice, Law &Criminology, School of Public Affairs
I have opened and established new field of historical inquiry in European constitutionalism, seeking out the stories behind the critical cases that led to increased constitutionalism and using historical context to transform our understanding of European law and integration. 

My teaching philosophy rests on clarity in standard setting;accessibility of information and instructor;and student empowerment. The AU experience is all about students learning from scholars and experts and gaining the knowledge, skills, and abilities valued in their fields.

Faculty are the members of the AU community that students interact with most frequently, and they have critical influence over students' academic success. Therefore, faculty have the responsibility of ensuring that students are being challenged in a supported way and that students have access to the skills that will make them successful citizens.

It is extremely rewarding to work with a student who discovers and pursues a challenging or unique goal and to help them achieve it. I particularly enjoy supervising Honors capstones and independent studies. AU students have remarkable ideas for scholarship, and it is delightful and stimulating to see them add important contributions to their fields of study.

AU faculty are…
…some of the most highly respected in their fields of research and practice. It is great to see them go out of their way to actively support our students and offer students their unique insight and experience.