One of the defining factors of quality public higher education is a close working relationship between faculty and students. At the four CSUs, these interactions are part of the fabric of university life. Students, many of whom are just beginning to consider their respective paths in life, often find themselves in need of guidance.
But the best guidance does not merely occur in the lecture hall; it is found beyond those four walls, during office hour discussions, while working to secure internships, or when sharing a book with a student whose curiosity is piqued. CSU faculty value and embrace their roles as contributors to the betterment of students’ lives and future careers. Many CSU students have benefited from such close mentoring relationships during their college years. Here are some of their stories.
Throughout the course of her undergraduate education to the present, Kesi Brathwaite has worked very closely with Professor Monique Durant, Director of CCSU’s Master’s in Accounting Program and current Director of Internship Programs.
As a first-generation college student, Kesi wasn’t sure of the opportunities available to her in Accounting. But thanks to one-on-one mentoring from Professor Durant, opportunities soon presented themselves. The professor took care to prepare Kesi for an Accounting Fair that connected her with a recruiter at Deloitte, a Big Four accounting firm. This led to several interviews and ultimately two consecutive summer internships at Deloitte in Stamford, Connecticut.
The professor’s connections and guidance enabled Kesi to expand her career goals and open her mind to new possibilities. Professor Durant’s understanding of both the accounting industry and academia helped this student make the right choices to begin her career. Kesi remarked, “She became a mentor to me after our first conversation because she’s incredible, she has her J.D. and everything. I remember thinking ‘Wow, I want to be just like you – even half of you would be great.’”
And Kesi is indeed following in her mentor’s footsteps. She is currently in the Master’s of Science in Accounting program at CCSU and is studying for her upcoming CPA exam while working full-time as an Audit Associate at the prestigious local firm Whittlesey & Hadley. Kesi maintains close contact with Professor Durant, whose influence on her is evident: “She’s always held high standards for us, but she also gives us a guide as to how to hold ourselves to a high standard and accomplish the things we want to do.”
At WCSU, Jonathan Dator benefited from mentoring in ways that allowed him to recognize his full potential in the academic world, something that he attributes to his undergraduate interactions with Professors Robin Gustafson and Mary Nelson of the WCSU Psychology Department.
For Jonathan, the initial freedom of college was a lot to handle and as a first generation student, he freely admits that he struggled with attendance and course work. Though his Intro to Psychology course with Professor Gustafson did not go as well as planned, Jonathan’s participation in her Brain and Behavior course marked a new beginning for him: since taking the intro class, Jonathan had been diagnosed with a genetic condition that caused the optic nerves connected to his brain to die, resulting in the loss of his vision. Through this unfortunate circumstance and with a renewed interest for the subject, Jonathan and Professor Gustafson found themselves often discussing articles related to his condition or science in general outside of class. These discussions were crucial to building his academic and scholarly confidence, and motivated him to continue studying psychology.
In his continued studies, mandatory participation in the Research Methods and Statistics sequence with Professor Mary Nelson required professor and student to think creatively about how he could best participate in the labs. This led Dr. Nelson to advocate for accessibility technology at the state-level, which she did successfully. Her advocacy made a tremendous difference in Jonathan’s experience of the course, enabling him to present his findings at WCSU’s Research Day. Their mutual efforts contributed to greater accessibility to services at the university and made a difference for future students. Jonathan is honored to have been a part of this contribution, which continues to inspire him in his studies and career.
Jonathan currently works as a Staff Psychologist for Student Health Services at Providence College. His positive WCSU experiences gave him a passion for social justice and advocacy. Jonathan utilizes this passion in his work, giving back and empowering students who might find themselves in situations similar to his own.
For Jessica Renzo at SCSU, guidance came in the form of mentorship from a close-knit group of Exercise Science professors. A transfer student and athlete, Jessica was unsure of the direction she wanted to move in among the sciences. Her academic advisor at the time, Dr. William Lunn, convinced Jessica to pursue Exercise Science by reviewing the coursework with her, and Biomechanics caught her eye.
Biomechanics, an upper level Human Performance course, with Dr. Robert Gregory served as a powerful motivator for her to continue in the program. Inspired by what she learned in the course, she was further motivated to pursue independent study, a course that allows students to pursue specific topics of interest to them under the close guidance of a professor. Professor Gregory worked with Jessica beyond the classroom to help develop an independent study topic: The Effects of Gender Differences on Lower Extremity Running Kinematics. This study led to a practicum with Professor Gregory at SCSU’s Connecticut Running Injury Clinic, housed in the Human Performance Lab on campus. The practicum connected Jessica to Mr. Theodore Niedzela, recreational triathlete and Senior Product Manager of New Products in the Research & Development Department for Timex Group, USA Inc. in Middlebury, CT. Fortuitously, their work one day in the lab and various interactions led to an eventual job at Timex for Jessica post-graduation.
Jessica has been working at Timex for the past year as a Product Performance Technical Aid, where she utilizes the day-to-day practical skills and experience acquired during her practicum. “I feel very fortunate… Dr. Gregory offered me all these resources early on by letting me assist him in the lab and by allowing me to work closely with him in the Running Injury Clinic he had just established,” Jessica said. “Then he and Dr. Axtell guided me through every aspect of my hiring process. Little did I know that all of these things were going to greatly impact my time at SCSU and enable me to attain this job that I love. I’ve spoken to a lot of students that are in the program about my experience; I’ve gone through it all, so I promote it. I tell them to go for it, talk to the professors, ask the professors, and you’ll learn so much.”
At ECSU, Katherine Burgos’ work with Professor Amy Groth has garnered attention from science professionals nationwide. A first-generation college student, Katherine came to ECSU as an undeclared major. After taking two non-major courses in Biology, she realized her deep interest in the subject and enrolled in Professor Groth’s Genetics class. Once the class concluded, Dr. Groth offered Katherine a teaching assistantship with another of her genetics classes the following semester.
After the assistantship concluded, Professor Groth invited Katherine to take part in her research lab, where she’s been working for three semesters now. Their project focuses on the study of microscopic worms, called C. elegans, and the effects of simulated microgravity on the worms. Dr. Groth and Katherine worked together to secure funding from NASA to support the project. Of the three grants available from the Connecticut Space Grant Consortium, Katherine was able to secure two grants – funding which has made their continued research together possible. Their constantly evolving project has brought many discoveries and questions that continue to guide their work. As a result of this research and her experiences at Eastern, Katherine also had the opportunity to work as a student intern at Pfizer, a biopharmaceutical corporation with research headquarters in Connecticut.
Katherine is currently in her final semester and will graduate in December 2016. She looks forward to further work in the biology field post-graduation, hopefully in a research laboratory. She anticipates applying to medical school in the future.
Across the state, CSU faculty foster close mentoring relationships that provide the foundation for students’ professional growth and contribute to the local community.
CSU faculty share their knowledge and experience with students, and continue to contribute to student successes year after year. With each batch of undergraduates, faculty members continue to provide connections and create opportunities for students in each of their respective fields. The Connecticut State University American Association of University Professors celebrates higher education, the great contributions of our faculty, and the success of our students and alumni across the state of Connecticut.