Nov. 28, 2012

Shaping Lives of Purpose: Faculty-student mentoring


Distinguished Teaching Professor of English Beth McCoy and senior Gretchen Barkhuff discuss an idea before class. Barkruff and McCoy's relationship — as faculty and student and as collaborators — represents the outstanding mentoring among faculty and students present at Geneseo. /PHOTO BY KEITH WALTERS '11





Gretchen Barkhuff first met Distinguished Service Professor of English Beth McCoy as a freshman in INTD: 105, in which they examined novels set in a future America about a young black woman's rise to power.

Barkhuff was inspired by McCoy's talent to teach students how to write and how she challenged them to reach their full potential. Her warmth and kindness transformed classes, says Barkhuff, "into miniature communities."

Over the next four years, Barkhuff and McCoy nurtured their relationship, as professor and student and then as collaborators. Barkhuff later served as McCoy's teaching assistant for that same INTD: 105 class, even taking over for McCoy during an unexpected illness.

"She had this amazing balance of assertiveness and compassion," says McCoy of Barkhuff's ability to lead the class.

Barkhuff believes she was able to lead the class because of McCoy's mentoring. She had taught her how to craft a well-written paper, and to teach others. Barkhuff's experience also helped her earn an internship in Washington, D.C., last summer leading writing workshops for high-schoolers. Most importantly, McCoy helped her gain poise, confidence and her own voice, she says.

That's the core of a mentor relationship, says McCoy.

"It's not just a professional relationship. It's also a larger relationship of human development ... You have to be willing and able to show your own weakness in front of a student if you're really going to mentor them. Not just be a professional but a whole person."

Barkhuff was shy as a freshman, says McCoy, and has grown personally and professionally. You cannot tell just how students will transform during their college experience, she says.

Their relationship is one example of how faculty help students challenge and ultimately find themselves, as they develop traits and skills they will take into their lives, careers and communities. Shaping Lives of Purpose: The Campaign for Geneseo seeks to provide opportunities for such growth in all disciplines.

Barkhuff graduates in December. She says she will take many important lessons with her, including the desire to do the best she can for herself and others.

"Dr. McCoy has taught me to see the world in a complicated way, imparting the knowledge that there are a multiplicity of voices and perspectives on even a seemingly small subject," she says. "My role ... is to find a place for myself while never losing sight of the larger, complicated picture. Even though I will no longer be able to see Dr. McCoy on a regular basis, both her lessons and her compassion will stick with me and shape my decisions for a long time."