University at Albany
 
From left:  Rockefeller College Assistant Professor Kathleen Deloughery and MPA student Tina Chang (Photography by Paul Miller/UAlbany Digital Media)

 

Mentoring Matters

If Plato hadn't studied under Socrates, would his thinking have been so profound? Without Oscar Hammerstein's influence on Stephen Sondheim, would American musical theatre be as lyrical? What if Luke Skywalker hadn't come under Yoda's tutelage on Dagobah — would the Empire have been saved from the dark side? These famous pairs — real or fictional — demonstrate the powerful and lasting outcomes that can result when a strong mentor-mentee relationship is at play. No matter how gifted or sure to succeed the student is, mentoring done well can enhance a mentee's knowledge, provide great career opportunities, create enduring connections and, above all, inspire. Rockefeller College believes in the power of mentorship, or as Yoda might say, its 'force.'

"Mentoring is essential for the success of students," insists Rockefeller College Dean David Rousseau. "We're not just here to give them a degree and then they're off on their own. We're much more interested in the overall experience of the students and their career trajectory. That means mentoring becomes even more important." Mentoring takes several forms at Rockefeller, shifting shape as necessary to accommodate academic and program needs. Students and faculty participate in very focused and rewarding one-on-one mentorship arrangements, whether it's faculty-to-student or peer mentoring. Mentoring also can, and often does, happen through the workplace; a large number of Rockefeller students intern at the New York State Legislature, state agencies and nonprofits. Students frequently find a mentor — formal or informal — in a supportive supervisor or staff member at their placement site. The College's Office of Internships and Career Programs works with students to set up meaningful experiential learning situations that offer opportunities for students to develop successful mentoring relationships. Rockefeller encourages its students to be career-conscious throughout the course of their internships. In addition, Dean Rousseau is trying to create more chances for students to interact with faculty and alumni, both inside and outside the classroom. Rockefeller's Alumni in the Classroom program provides opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to connect with alumni working in a career field of potential interest to them. Alumni having issue-area expertise are invited back to the classroom to speak to students — in person or virtually — in a related political science or public administration course. Alumni describe their own career paths and give students a sense of the skill set needed to land a job and be successful in that field. Students are encouraged to lend a hand on special college-wide events like the Annual Alumni-Student Jeopardy Challenge or the Alumni Awards Dinner and Ceremony. "It's much easier to walk into a professor's office if the two of you have chatted over pizza at an event and you've already made a connection," says the dean.

Students in Rockefeller's Master of Public Administration program have access to several different kinds of mentoring. "First, every student is assigned a faculty member who acts as a mentor, advocate and guide for their academic and professional development," says R. Karl Rethemeyer, associate dean and chair of the department of public administration. "Through our internship program, every student is paired with an internship supervisor who helps the student learn the ropes in the professional world. Additionally, our faculty includes a large number of public service professors — senior professionals who also teach. We encourage students to reach out to these master practitioners who can often help them find jobs, understand the requirements of a career in the public sector, and develop the habits and skills necessary to be successful."

Getting the most out of a mentoring relationship

Dr. Tine Reimers, director of faculty and program development at the University at Albany, advises that, although mentoring situations may vary, there are best practices that can and should be applied. "Be absolutely open and honest at the beginning of the mentorship relationship," says Dr. Reimers. "It's important for both the mentor and the mentee to establish clear expectations as they begin the process. A good mentor listens and doesn't rely solely on his or her own knowledge, but is willing to investigate new areas of help and resources to find the answer to a question. A mentor needs to be listening, needs to be hearing, and asking what the mentee needs right now. A good mentee is proactive, has a plan, has five questions ready to go for every meeting they're having with their mentor, and is strategic and planful about the order of topics. If both sides are prepared, everybody's going to do a better job and learn more. Mentoring when left to chance often doesn't happen at all."

Mentoring is a critical component of the Center for Women in Government & Civil Society's (CWGCS) Fellowship on Women and Public Policy program at Rockefeller College. The fellowship is part of CWGCS's intensive leadership development program for women, designed to maximize the skills and contributions of women in public service.

Fellows come from diverse backgrounds, interests, disciplines, and countries. "All have a central goal of becoming public service leaders, ready to take on the toughest challenges of the 21st century," says CWGCS Director Dina Refki. In addition to completing nine credits of policy coursework and participating in a rigorous cocurricular program that consists of professional development workshops, community service and fellowship group sessions, fellows serve six months in positions within a state agency, a statewide advocacy organization or the office of a New York State Senate or Assembly member.

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Professor David Andersen and doctoral student
Weijia Ran videoconference with international
colleagues about a simulation model Weijia has
created. Andersen is a mentor to Weijia.

During that time, fellows are matched with mentors with whom they regularly discuss the challenges they face in their fellowship journey, clarify career pathways and explore the dos and don'ts of managing one's reputation. They also have opportunities to meet with women who have achieved significant success in their careers and who are willing to share their success stories. All mentors promote connections for their mentees, open doors and provide insights gained through their own work experience. "We explicitly emphasize to our mentors that one of their roles is to connect fellows to the movers and shakers in Albany. Today's job market is a different landscape from that of yesterday. You can't rely on credentials alone anymore. Gone are the days where you just send a résumé to an employer and expect to land a job. You must have a reputation for trustworthiness and competency, which is really the building block of a career. In other words, you must know people, build connections and root yourself in the community," stresses Dina Refki.

Paying It Forward

Although the purpose of the mentorship program is to position fellows for success in their search for careers in public policy, Dr. Refki points out that mentors benefit every bit as much as their mentees and derive a special satisfaction from the relationship. "Our mentors are successful professionals, many of whom were CWGCS fellows themselves once. They want to give back. Mentoring is a way of making a contribution and paying it forward," she says.

Earlier this year, at a reception welcoming the CWGCS fellows, New York State Assemblywoman Patricia Fahey reminded attendees about the power of mentoring. Dean David Rousseau recalls, "She told fellows to reach for the stars, but with one hand so you can pull someone up with the other. It struck me as the perfect way to sum up the spirit of mentorship."

Read further for three stories of mentoring at Rockefeller College.




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Tina Chang began her studies at Rockefeller College hoping to become a law enforcement officer. The California native and UCLA grad was completing her master's at UAlbany's School of Criminal Justice when Rockefeller came calling with an offer of a T-STeP fellowship. T-STeP, Training for Security and Terrorism Professionals, was a new initiative at Rockefeller sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and administered by the College in partnership with the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES). The fellowship presented an opportunity to work side-by-side with faculty engaged in critical security and terrorism research. It also offered fellows the chance to gain real-world work experience inside DHSES. To Tina, it was the next step on the path to her dream job. She was right, but in a slightly roundabout way.

"My fellowship included a research requirement," says Tina. "At orientation, the professors introduced themselves and talked about the work they were doing. They told us we could pick the research we found most interesting. After Kathleen described her project, I thought, 'I definitely want to do that.'"

Kathleen Deloughery, assistant professor in the department of public administration and policy, was getting ready to begin work on a "very data-heavy" study she had been impatiently postponing since her days as a grad student at Ohio State. "My advisor at the time told me, "Great idea, but wait on it. You don't have time to do it now," recalls Kathleen. An economist with a keen interest in terrorism issues, Kathleen wanted to explore the factors that increased the likelihood of an attack against U.S. interests abroad. To do so would require collecting and comparing extensive data across multiple dimensions about both the U.S. and the locations where attacks occurred. "That's where Tina came in," says Kathleen. "She did a great deal of work compiling and organizing data. We met about once a week for me to give her projects to work on and set goals."

"We'd talk about the project but we'd chat about other things, too," says Tina. "Kathleen was very supportive and patient. Even if she had criticism for me, she'd spin it in a positive way making sure to emphasize what I was doing well in addition to what needed improvement."

In fall 2013, after much coaching and encouragement from Kathleen, and a practice run before a friendly audience at Rockefeller, Tina presented the project's initial findings at two academic conferences in Washington, D.C. — the Association for Public Policy & Management Conference (APPAM) and the International Security Studies Section of the International Studies Association Conference (ISSS-ISAC). "I've gotten really great feedback on Tina's presentations," says Kathleen. "After she presented at APPAM, our discussant — who is a program manager at DHS — took Tina and me out to lunch and made a point to tell me how impressed he was with her. He also gave her some great career advice. So the project was a good experience for Tina in many ways. It fulfilled her research requirement and it provided her with important networking opportunities."

"She really does look out for me," says Tina of her mentor. "When we went to the D.C. conferences she always made sure I was part of the conversation. Kathleen's very generous. She's letting me coauthor the final paper. That's part of her mentorship. She's saying, 'This is your first step in the academic world.'"

Tina's next step just may be to Washington, D.C. and her dream job. Working with Kathleen has changed her mind about the type of work she ultimately wants to do. "Shocked and thrilled" is how Tina described her reaction when six weeks before graduation she received an offer to work as a program analyst for the federal government. She credits Rockefeller and professors like Kathleen Deloughery with making it all possible.

"Tina is an incredibly hard worker. She prepares for things like no other," says Kathleen. "She'll be extremely successful at whatever she does. I think we'll stay in touch after Tina graduates and the relationship will evolve however it needs to. If it's just to chat about things from time to time, that's fine. If she needs to come to me for advice, I'll always be willing."



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Kalin Delehanty Scott is getting a top-notch education on two fronts. On the academic side, she's pursuing her graduate degree in Rockefeller College's highly respected Master of Public Administration program studying under a stellar group of scholars. In her professional life, she's a key member of a team at the New York State Department of Health (DOH) that is tasked with the challenging job of redesigning the state's Medicaid program. At DOH, she has a dedicated and inspiring mentor who is a recognized expert in his field, Jason Helgerson, director of New York's $54 billion Medicaid program that provides vital health care services to 5.5 million New Yorkers. You could say that everywhere Kalin turns, she learns.

Kalin and Jason began their association in 2011 when, as Governor Andrew M. Cuomo took office, Jason came aboard as executive director of the governor's Medicaid Redesign Team (MRT), leading the effort to transform the program by bringing down costs and improving outcomes for Medicaid members. Jason tapped Kalin, who had already been working at DOH for three years, to be the team's project manager.

"We have more than 230 projects," says Kalin. "I work with the leads across the organization, following up on implementation, troubleshooting, resolving issues, coordinating activity, and doing status briefings. Over the last couple years, I've worked on the state's Medicaid waiver. The job is exciting, occasionally overwhelming, and always an education." According to Jason, Kalin handles it all beautifully. "She's like a utility infielder you can insert into the lineup in multiple ways," he says.

"At the beginning, I think Jason believed in me more than I believed in me," Kalin recalls. "He was always available for questions and to come up with ideas for how we could get things done. I've enjoyed learning about good management from him." Kalin is also getting a veritable master class in the behemoth that is Medicaid. "I've learned a lot about how the program operates, how financing works, how policies are developed, how complicated it is to make changes, and how necessary transparency and thoroughness are as we engage with stakeholders."

Jason takes his mentoring role seriously, identifying opportunities for Kalin, directing her talents and forging connections for her. "Kalin is smart, works hard, is results-focused and professional. She writes extremely well; that's hugely valuable. I can get Kalin involved in situations where she can learn and grow and, in essence, build her résumé. I think management is the next step for her," notes Jason, who strongly encouraged Kalin to pursue her MPA at Rockefeller. "I have a master's degree in public policy; graduate school helped me develop skills that are extremely important in getting to higher levels in the workplace. I tried to do whatever I could to allow Kalin to adjust her work schedule to make going to school a little easier for her to do because I think the fact that she's doing it is fantastic," says Jason.

An interesting opportunity arose for Kalin at Rockefeller because of her experience at DOH. Professor David Andersen invited her to work with the faculty team in planning his MPA first-year capstone course that utilizes ReThink Health, a simulation model that enables communities to test innovative ideas for reshaping and redesigning their health care systems. "I've been giving updates in each class regarding the Medicaid redesign," says Kalin. "Jason spoke in the first class. The students have very insightful questions and comments. It's been very rewarding."

Jason's presentation to David Andersen's class earned rave reviews. "I enjoy interacting with students," says Jason. "I believe my role as a public servant includes talking to and hopefully inspiring the next generation to do this work. Right now in terms of public policy, health care is one of the most exciting areas — with Medicaid reform, the Affordable Care Act and transformation of health care delivery. There are amazingly talented people in government and I want to encourage smart, motivated students to join in." Spoken like a true mentor.



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Thursday Morning Group

Don't even think about scheduling an appointment with Professor David Andersen on Thursday morning from 11 to noon (Eastern Time, that is). He has a very important standing meeting with at least six or seven other people, and they've come a very long distance to speak with him. "There are certain things that just get blocked into my calendar," says Andersen. "This is one of those things." "This" is the Thursday Morning Group (TMG for short), a tight-knit circle of friends and trusted colleagues who refuse to let three continents and six time zones get in the way of a weekly online confab where they catch up on each other's news, share a few laughs, perhaps engage in a little friendly ribbing, and knock around some heady topics like system dynamics modeling, simulation techniques and group decision-making. Andersen reserves this sacred hour for conversation and consultation with current and former colleagues who over the years have become dear friends and trusted mentors to one another. Luis Luna-Reyes is a professor in the business school at Universidad de las Américas in Puebla, Mexico. Laura Black and husband Don Greer are partners in Greer Black Company, a research and consulting corporation in Bozeman, Montana. Laura is also an associate professor in the Jake Jabs College of Business & Entrepreneurship at Montana State University. Nici Zimmermann is a junior professor at the University of Siegen, Germany who has been doing research on organizational change in the New York Stock Exchange. Michael Degan is working on water resource planning with the Army Corps of Engineers in Washington, D.C. Three of Andersen's current University at Albany colleagues are on board as well: Professor Emeritus George Richardson from the department of public administration; Rod MacDonald, director of Initiative for Systems Dynamics in the Public Sector; and Eliot Rich, associate professor at the School of Business. Two former students of David Andersen's whom he mentored while they were completing their degrees at UAlbany, are faithful TMG participants and "now valued colleagues," he says. Hyunjung Kim, PhD '09 is an assistant professor in the department of management at Chico State in Northern California. Navid Ghaffarzadegan, PhD '11 is an assistant professor at Virginia Tech in the department of industrial and systems engineering. Oh, and as David Andersen is quick to point out, there's also a good chance Krys Stave, an associate professor at UNLV's School of Environmental and Public Affairs, will jump on the line from Ethiopia where she's working on a Fulbright. "Krys is very loyal," says Andersen. "She's been known to pull her car over and Skype in from a remote back road location while she's traveling. It's always interesting to hear what she's up to."

TMG is a spin-off of the Rockefeller College Public Administration Department's long-running brown bag lunch series which, since its inception in 1981, has had many names — including the Decision & Policy Sciences Brown Bag Lunch (DAPS) and the Thursday Policy Lunch — but only one purpose. For the last 30 years, TPOL, as it's known on campus these days, has been bringing together junior and senior scholars who want to support each other's research. "The Thursday Morning Group is mostly made up of alums of that group, people who over the years have gotten to know and trust each other and who've had good experiences working together while they were here in Albany. Some were students; some were visiting scholars. Now they're scattered all around the world," says Andersen, "but they still want to stay in touch."

The Thursday Morning Group got its start four or fi ve years ago when Andersen was on sabbatical in Mexico and the friends began to experiment with remote meetings. First they Skyped, but these days they use GoToMeeting. They also share an online dropbox where they exchange slides and other research materials. Someone has even put up a Zotero citation database so they can stay up-to-date on each other's work. Navid is the group moderator this semester. His job is to schedule group members who want to speak about their research or seek input or feedback about a project. He also convenes the meetings.

"We usually start every meeting by asking the speaker, 'What do you want out of this? In other words, how can we be helpful to you?'" explains Andersen. "We have formal and informal rules so that it's an orderly and productive discussion. No one's allowed to be a smart aleck or hot dog or ask questions that show how smart they are. You always have to be alert to what the speaker wants and you always have to be helpful. People can come to the meeting and say, 'I've been thinking about this idea but I don't know if it's going to work,' and they know no one's going to stomp on them. It's always safe."

What Andersen and his friends have so artfully crafted is a peer-mentoring network. "It's probably the best kind of mentoring that there is," says Tine Reimers, director of faculty and program development for the University at Albany. "It's based on mutual interests and a level of peership and respect that has been gained over time and that allows a non-hierarchical way of exchanging ideas. That is extremely powerful because you don't fear ulterior motives on any front, whether you're the senior or the junior person. You're just exchanging useful ideas with one another because you have found that person helpful in the past. If you can fi nd people like that in your life, you're a lucky person."

Andersen points to another key element that distinguishes the Thursday Morning Group from most research groups. "If I'm in a work group, I'm trying to make myself more productive, but I think that everyone in this group cares about having everyone succeed," he says. "All of us can point to projects on our résumés that started right here in the Thursday Morning Group. Discussions have led to grants. There have been very successful collaborations with concrete results. For instance, Nici and Laura are developing a paper together. We watched their friendship grow through their contact with the group. Now, Laura is working with Nici over in Germany for a year and they're doing great stuff. I enjoy staying this intensely connected with people that I like very much. In addition, from a professional point of view, it's arguably the most productive hour I spend every week because I'm looking for interesting problems to work on. I'm looking for interesting partners to work with. I'm looking for publication outlets. Every week I come into a forum with people that I've learned to deeply trust over the years and they open up and say, 'Here's an interesting problem I'm working on, here's a dataset, here's a funding source, here's a paper, and I'm looking for partners.' And I can do the same, and people will jump in and I'll get help with things that I'm working on. I think Rockefeller College and UAlbany have developed a reputation for being the kind of place where collaborative work thrives and I'm very proud of that."

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2014 Rockefeller College News Magazine.