Pathways toward the Past: Mentoring for an Expansive, Inclusive, and Shared Sense of History
Ana Elizabeth Rosas, January 2012
Being one of two Chicana historians at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), I take the responsibility for mentoring undergraduate and graduate students—especially underrepresented students of color—very seriously. I understand that my course offerings, office hours, and other forms of student-faculty interaction are among the few opportunities students have to engage with a working-class Mexican immigrant woman in the capacity of a historian, professor, and mentor. Following in the words of historian George Lipsitz, I believe that both the curriculum as well as out-of-class interactions allow us to "think about social relations and responsibilities in the past and present together."1
I teach Chicana/o history using multimedia presentations comprised of primary and secondary sources not only in the form of documentation, but also clothing, films, oral life histories, and songs, which familiarize students with the catalytic dynamism and expansiveness of Chicana/o history and reflect my priorities and sensibilities as a historian and potential mentor. Exposing students to these continuums of sources is critical to alerting them that a student-mentor relationship with me requires a shared appreciation for the powerful relevance of unearthing and interpreting the emotional depth and range—calidad humana and sentir (humanity and feeling) that animates the individuals that drive Chicana/o history. This intellectual introduction in the classroom has made productive mentoring relationships with students of diverse class, ethnic, intellectual, and racial backgrounds easier to enter into and nurture because they are already founded in shared intellectual interests.
My nurturing of productive student-mentor relationships also rests on encouraging students to reconceptualize their careers as beginning when they set foot on campus rather than upon graduating. I dedicate considerable time in class to promoting undergraduate and graduate research opportunities, programs and fellowships, career workshops and fairs, and civic engagement projects, as well as on- and off-campus Chicana/o history events. Such discussions have proven invaluable for inspiring students to pursue and be accountable for a portfolio of experiences that energizes them to thrive within and beyond our academic major and the corridors of our campus. Nurturing a healthy awareness of, and interest in, the relationship among lessons learned in their families, neighborhoods, courses, and professional communities exposes students to the power of engagement that includes and builds on lessons learned within and beyond the classroom. It becomes easier for them to understand the generative potential of pursuing forms of engagement that align and advance their intellectual, professional, and personal growth and interests. Encouraging students to take individual and collective ownership of their education and career further elevates their own sense of relevance in pursuing opportunities that are reflective of the expansive world of approaches and challenges they may face and care about most.
Outside of the classroom, I use office hours and professional guidance to aid students in their professional development, from undertaking the investigation and writing of an original research project and paper to composing a curriculum vitae and personal statement. During the first two weeks of each academic quarter, I require students enrolled in my courses or under my mentorship to meet with me in groups of four to promote and implement an etiquette that familiarizes them with each other's perspectives, goals, and progress; my expectations; and the advantages of meeting to discuss their historical perspectives and questions with me in a friendly, yet thorough fashion. This initial group meeting makes it easier to convey or remind students that meeting during my office hours requires them to come prepared to discuss their specific questions, as well as use my written guides and other clearly delineated recommendations with the healthiest attitudes possible. I strive to honor my commitment to their education by pursuing office-hour meetings as conversations meant to address their concerns, as well as signifying a mutual understanding of the invaluable importance of this form of engagement.
Encouraging students to consider office-hour meetings as an extension of their professionalization, but most urgently, a foundational component of our student-mentor relationship consistently inspires them to understand and value the importance of a shared sense of responsibility for these meetings and their outcomes. Such mutual sense of accountability has also made it easier to mentor students into participating during our course lecture meetings and/or research-related events proactively, and most importantly, with an attentiveness to innovation and preparedness. This combination of a shared healthy disposition, instructions in the form of how to guides, and goal-oriented conversations consistently has motivated students to express themselves, as well as impressed upon them that their education and careers are in their own hands. Students' growing self-confidence, preparedness, and strides also solidifies their resolve and, in turn, makes it easier to mentor them into taking themselves seriously as individuals invested in making Chicana/o history a meaningful source of knowledge and successful career paths.
Finally, providing students with the opportunity to work closely with each other, with scholars from across different academic disciplines, and with individuals from their surrounding communities, as well as familiarizing them with the trajectories of fellow historians has enriched my mentorship of students immeasurably. Most recently, I have been working with a colleague in African American studies, visual studies, and cultural theory to train students to conduct their own research of the intergenerational and interracial continuities and relationships that connect African American and Chicana/o-Latina/o experiences as part of UCI's Multi-Disciplinary Design Project. This research team project has afforded me the opportunity to provide students with the experience of working as a team alongside students and faculty dedicated and excited to learn from each other, and from a diversity of primary and secondary sources, as well as distinct approaches toward investigating and rendering history. Having this comparative, interdisciplinary, and relational research team model in place, making it accessible to students, and sharing our historical findings with our campus and local high school students and teachers creates the kind of on- and off-campus presence and visibility that encourages students to envision and pursue collaboration across academic disciplines, spaces, and communities in order to advance inroads within and beyond our campus and their careers at UCI.
My commitment to mentoring students through a generative team model is part of a vision for working together as scholars determined to reach the widest audience possible. It has inspired me to develop and share with students fellow historians' profiles with an emphasis on their professional trajectories, current historical research, and the lasting impact of their historical approaches and interpretations. Throughout the years, I've learned that mentoring students entails introducing them to the world of Chicana/o history through a rigorous yet humanizing approach that makes historical thinking less mysterious and more stimulating. Hence, making this field of inquiry, its practitioners, and the actors that drive historical interpretations more accessible to students is at the heart of my approach to mentorship for a life of learning.
Ana Elizabeth Rosas is an assistant professor of history and Chicana/o-Latina/o studies at the University of California, Irvine. She earned her doctorate in history from the University of Southern California in 2006.