At WCSU, Jonathan Dator benefitted 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 a year later 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. As he remembers, despite his previous class performance, Professor Gustafson was still “very understanding and accommodating and shocked that something like this had happened to me.”
But it was through this unfortunate circumstance that Jonathan discovered his own 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. “We had good discussions and I think just having those times to talk in her office, sometimes about the class, but most of the time just about science made me realize, wow, this is a professor that actually cares to spend her free time talking to me. And some of the things that I talk about doing like becoming a psychologist she actually thinks that I can do.” Their discussions were crucial to building Jonathan’s academic and scholarly confidence, and motivated him to continue studying psychology.
Though many around Jonathan believed that he would have to give up a career in psychology, his professor motivated him to continue his studies. At the time of his diagnosis, Jonathan recalled thinking that he would have to change his life completely – that he would have to drop out of college and never have a career – but as he discovered, none of this was true. “At that time I needed someone to confirm that from the academic side my fears were not rational, and Professor Gustafson really helped me get to that point that first semester back at school.”
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. ZoomText software was put on computers Jonathan used for coursework so that he could listen to audio playback of digital texts. A portable video magnifier device called CCTV also enabled him to take tests in real-time, allowing him to ask questions for clarification while in the testing room with the rest of the class rather than having to interpret the test at face value in a separate space. Professor Nelson’s 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 uses his relationships with his professors and mentors at WCSU, as well as his personal experience with social justice and advocacy, in his current work as a Staff Psychologist for Student Health Services at Providence College in New England. His area of focus is psychological counseling, where he works with students dealing with different issues and concerns. Specifically he specializes in multi-cultural counseling, and maintains a demonstrated passion for “working with students who have been disenfranchised or may not have had access to higher education in the past, which relates specifically to some of my experiences at Western Connecticut State University. I’m really passionate about social justice and advocacy.”
His personal experiences with his professors at WCSU formed the framework for the connections Jonathan now fosters between himself and his students. In a way, he pays his positive WCSU experience forward, helping students realize what he did during his own mentorship. “It’s taught me what I tell students all the time: be open with your professors. If you’re open with them about what’s happening, the chances are that they can come to a better understanding of what’s going on and they’ll be there for you. I know it – that’s what happened to me. I wouldn’t be where I am if I wasn’t open with what I needed and what my life situation was.”
Open communication between Jonathan and his professors at WCSU was critical to his future success and formed the foundation for his work in social justice and advocacy. Together, Jonathan and his professors were able to make his dream career a reality through consistent encouragement and support. Now, Jonathan utilizes his passion for social justice and advocacy in his work, giving back and empowering students who might find themselves in situations similar to his own.