On Being a Mentor: A Presentation and Discussion Featuring Dr. Brad Johnson

On December 14, 2017, W. Brad Johnson, Ph.D., a professor of psychology in the Department of Leadership, Ethics, and Law at the United States Naval Academy and author of On Being a Mentor: A Guide for Higher Education Faculty and Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women, came to Georgetown to discuss the landscape around mentoring in academic environments.

Johnson began by noting that mentoring often gets presented as a panacea. He noted that despite the fact that there is able research to support that undergraduates with mentors perform better both academically and professionally, and report feeling more confident, competent, more comfortable with their work-life balance, and achieve more imminent things in their professions, simply setting up an administrative “mentoring” program is not enough to achieve these results. Rather, Johnson emphasized that mentoring is a time-intensive activity, and only about 25% of undergraduate students reported that they felt as though they had a mentor – or even a professor who cared about them – during their entire college career.

What is a mentor, and how do these relationships take off?

Johnson prompted those at the tables around the room to discuss a scenario: Imagine two students come to your door and ask if you can be their mentor. How do you respond? How do you select the people to work with? Would you respond to these students in the same way? What is the best strategy for navigating this situation?

The situation sparked a number of conversations as many participants realized that they did have preferences for the kind of students they prefer to mentor. Continuing, Johnson explained that different methods of matching students to mentors come with their own unique pros and cons. In an institution that has a formal program to match people with mentors (as opposed to having students find their mentors organically), more students tend to find a mentor. In these formal relationships, there are clear goals and endpoints for the relationship, defined boundaries, and informed consent between the parties. Allowing relationship to form naturally can lead to stronger partnerships and fonder feelings—however, sometimes at the cost of a clear definition of the relationship. He noted that in these kinds of relationships mentors may not even be aware that their mentees regard them as mentors until they hear about the impact they had on that student years after their graduation.

On a similar note, Johnson also cautioned the room against labelling themselves as a “mentor” in these more natural relationships, and instead encouraged participants to wait for their students to assign them this title. After all, he noted, mentorship is a continuum. Many mentorships begin as more formal relationships—such as that of a research supervisor or an advisor—but as trust develops, a mentorship becomes more reciprocal.  

How can you become a mentor, and who should you mentor?

Johnson noted that research indicates that spending time listening to your mentees is a top element of developing a successful relationship, and that carefully considering how you arrange your meetings is crucial to making students comfortable. For example, do you meet in your office, in a coffee shop, or in a bar? Do you meet at a time that is convenient for people with families, or in a place that alienates a certain type of student? He encourages faculty to consider the students that they already mentor, and ask themselves who might be missing. Do they mentor exclusively men? Exclusively people who mirror themselves?

What makes for a truly meaningful mentorship?

Johnson also spoke about other important elements of being a good mentor, such as encouraging mentees. He noted that imposter syndrome is prevalent among students, so telling your students that they belong and practicing affirmation in your comments is an important part of being a mentor. Especially when mentoring undergraduates, Johnson emphasized the importance of being conscious of these students’ ongoing developmental psychology and student development – recognizing and having sensitivity to the fact that they are in a stage of emerging adulthood. Rather than pressuring decisions, a good mentor unearths “the dream” – a vision of what an ideal world would look like. A good mentor practices the “Michelangelo phenomenon”—a term in psychology to describe how the best partners work with each other. How do you draw out the best in your partner? Mentors have to approach their mentees with the same humility and unassuming nature as Michelangelo took to the block – he was surprised when Moses or David would emerge, claiming that he didn’t always know what he was going to create. Ask your students Socratic questions in moments of crisis – asking them what they think a solution to a problem might be or what they would like to do, rather than telling them or handing them advice. Being unconditionally, non-judgmentally supportive and approaching relationships with humility and a learning disposition is essential, as is validating a student’s own style, rather than cloning oneself.

Although mentors are not therapists, it’s also important to recognize that some students students come with unresolved issues – either rockstar students with a lack of confidence, perfectionist mentees with fears of failure, or students who approach the mentoring relationship as in some way reparative for another, more fraught relationship. Again, Johnson emphasized the importance of affirmation in these relationships. Be a champion for your students and affirm for your students that your investment in them and your assessment of their worth is not based on their performance, but on their effort. Ferret out the difference for your students between striving for excellence and striving for perfection, and be conscious in deliberately modeling healthy behaviors and mindsets.

Giving advice is not enough

Finally, Johnson explained that a truly meaningful mentorship is a combination of psychosocial support and career support. Sponsorship is an essential part of aiding your students, and helping them to network is essential. He also noted some implicit gender biases that sometimes comes into play, and noted that women tend get too much mentoring, and not enough sponsorship. He encouraged mentors to coach their students for interviews and help them polish their vitas. He noted that great mentors will create a constellation of mentors for their mentees and refer them to others that they don’t know.

Johnson ended by noting that when you do great mentoring, you’re creating mental maps for your mentees about what great relationships look like. You’re creating a roadmap for what professional mentoring relationships look like. By mentoring, you are creating a shift in your own culture, as your mentees will eventually go on to mentor others. You are doing more than you think.

Shared Work: How Student Well-Being Can Bring Faculty and Staff Together

In an opinion piece published on Inside Higher Ed this week, CNDLS’ David Ebenbach argues that academic institutions depend on the efforts of many people doing many kinds of work; faculty and staff, for starters, are both essential to our students’ success. And yet at many colleges and universities there are few opportunities for faculty and staff to work together, despite the fact that we share an obvious point of connection: our students.

Luckily, here at Georgetown, we have the Engelhard Project, which aims to infuse issues of student well-being throughout the curriculum. In this project, faculty bring topics of well-being into their courses, and staff from across campus—from CAPS, from the Academic Resource Center, from Health Education Services, and many more departments and centers at Georgetown—come to class to share their expertise on the topic.

Great things happen in Engelhard courses: students make connections between what they’re learning and their lives beyond the classroom, and faculty and staff make connections to one another. As they work together again and again and gather for informal Engelhard group conversations outside the classroom, these faculty-staff relationships deepen.

Now about to enter its 13th year of existence, the Engelhard Project continues to reinforce the importance—and the responsibility—of a shared approach to our students’ learning and well-being. Read the entire article here to learn more.

Reflections on Digital Learning Developments: CNDLS Executive Director Featured in “Inside Higher Ed”

It is hard to believe that 2017 is coming to a close. This year has been a promising one for the development of new technologies and initiatives in digital learning and scholarship in higher education. In the spirit of reflection, Inside Higher Ed asked a panel of experts questions regarding their thoughts on the most consequential developments in the field this year. Our very own Eddie Maloney, Executive Director of CNDLS, is featured in the article and shares his thoughts on the most exciting digital learning developments.

Read the full article from Inside Higher Ed here.

Think Hybrid: Conceptualize, Design, and Develop Your Hybrid Course

If you missed the 2017 Teaching, Learning and Innovation Summer Institute (TLISI) or would like to revisit a TLISI topic, follow along with us as as we feature various sessions on the Prospect blog over the course of the 2017-18 academic year. We’ll be sharing posts on the following themes: Teaching in the Jesuit Tradition, Incorporating Difficult and Timely Topics, Innovative Teaching Practices, Technology Enhanced Learning, Evidence-based Teaching and Learning, Inclusive Pedagogies, and Cross-Institutional & Cross-Departmental Collaborations. Many of the sessions were recorded and are viewable on Digital Georgetown (accessible by anyone with a Georgetown NetID). You can also find a links to all of our recorded sessions on the TLISI Resources page. Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for our newsletter to stay updated on posts and more!

Hybrid courses are designed to use traditional face-to-face aspects and online activities in order to compliment a class’s learning objectives. What does it mean to teach a hybrid course? What are the best ways to integrate online resources into the classroom? In the 2017 TLISI “Think Hybrid: Conceptualize, Design, and Develop Your Hybrid Course” session, CNDLS staff, including Yianna Vovides, Kim Lubreski, and Zhuqing Ding, highlighted features of hybrid courses and ways for faculty to make their own courses “hybrid.”

Hybrid courses are named for the structural elements of the course and how students are working rather than the way in which they are learning. Vovides explained that for a class to be considered a hybrid course at Georgetown, 30-70% of classroom time is spent outside of the traditional learning environment.  Ways this time could be spent include online meetings via Zoom or a class trip. The subject of the course, whether it be humanities based or science based, will impact the methods.  

Faculty broke into small groups to discuss advantages and disadvantages of hybrid classrooms and the benefits of a hybrid course. Most groups came to the consensus that some of the biggest challenges facing hybrid courses is developing high quality content and finding time to create genuine connections between the in-class and online parts of the course. All groups concluded that hybrid courses allow for students to spend more time actively learning course content and seeing how the information is applicable outside the scope of the classroom. This in turn can give students the opportunity to interact with the material on a deeper level rather than what they may have gained from solely studying it.

One of the attendees brought up that there is a difference between science and humanities courses that is addressed by the hybrid class structure. Humanities, for the most part, have always had work that they could do outside of class. For language students, it is necessary to immerse themselves in the language and engage with it as often as possible. Literature students aren’t going to spend class time reading but rather in a discussion of what they have read beforehand. On the contrary, science students haven’t had those same opportunities as homework consisted of reading from a textbook or doing problem sets. The hands-on learning has been lacking. With hybrid courses, there are more possibilities for active learning outside of the classroom for students of all disciplines.

Recording Lectures Made Easy: Apple Releases New Screen Recording Feature

For many faculty, recording class lectures may seem like a challenging and daunting process. Thanks to the latest Apple operating system update, instructors are now able to capture screen recordings directly from their iPhone or iPad devices making it easier to record lectures and integrate them into traditional face-to-face courses, a hybrid or flipped course, or an online course.

Read the full blog post to learn more about how this feature adds both mobility and versatility to teaching.

Leaps and Bounds: CNDLS Continues to Collaborate with Partners on Georgetown Domains Community Site Project

At CNDLS, we believe digital technology can play a meaningful and powerful role in achieving learning goals. In 2015, we partnered with Georgetown University Information Services (UIS) and Reclaim Hosting to bring Georgetown Domains to campus, an effort to give Georgetown students, faculty, and staff the opportunity to claim a web hosting environment and personal domain free of cost.

GU Domains is part of the larger Domain of One’s Own effort on campuses nationwide aimed at helping students understand, develop, and curate digital identities through their own website. To date, GU Domains has over 650 active users, with 60% student users and the remainder faculty and staff representing 54 different departments.

In June 2017, a group of CNDLS staff members attended the 2017 Domains conference in Oklahoma City and presented their exciting vision for a Domains Community Site—a community space where users can create, collaborate, and discover with each other in an online environment. The presenters, who included CNDLS’ Yianna Vovides and Marie Selvanadin and Jim Groom (University of Mary Washington) and Tom Woodward (Virginia Commonwealth University), shared a three-layer model to support engagement with Domains at the campus, programmatic, and individual levels. We invite you to learn more about the model and the project by reading this detailed post we wrote this past summer. 

More recently, Vovides and Selvanadin have continued work on Community Sites with Groom and others, and their work was featured in a blog post authored by Groom. In it, he discusses the process of conceptualizing Georgetown University Domain’s Community Directory site and the process of working with CNDLS staff members to create it from scratch. To read more about the research and technical steps of this project, read Groom’s full blog post here.

We’re deeply grateful for our partnership with Groom and others, and are excited about the future of Domain’s Community Directory. For questions or additional information, please reach out to Yianna Vovides, yv11@georgetown.edu.

Nervous About Technology in the Classroom? It’s Already There—and That’s Good News.

Even if you never touch the computer console that’s probably built into your room, even if you don’t know anything about blogs or have a policy against students working on laptops in class, you’re still working with technology—which is to say: practical, human-made tools that help you teach and that help your students learn.

Seen through this definition, the pencils and pens in your students’ hands are technology, and so is the chalkboard or whiteboard that most teachers use for notes. Certainly email qualifies, and PowerPoint and Google Slides do, too. The point is that you and your students are already rallying tools to the cause of education, and you’re doing it the right way: first you identify a need or a goal (e.g., taking notes, communicating), and then you call on the relevant technology to help you get where you want to go.

For some teachers, writing implements and writing surfaces can cover all the situation’s needs. But thinking openly might remind you of needs you hadn’t considered, needs that technology could help you meet. For example, maybe you want to encourage more class participation. Well, requiring students to contribute to an online discussion board before class could get them warmed up for in-class discussion. Or maybe the use of clickers or online polling would bring more people into the conversation. Do you wish you had more time in class to apply the concepts students are learning? Tools like lecture capture can free up in-class time by moving more material to the time between sessions. You want students to collect material that can ultimately help them advance in the field? An e-portfolio could be a useful tool.

The main point is this: There are things you want to get done in your course, and the range of technologies is so enormous right now that there might just be a technology out there that can support you.

The Teaching Commons’ Teaching with Technologies page offers examples of common teaching goals along with with an array of technological solutions. We hope you’ll find something you can use!

As always, feel free to reach out to us with any questions—and here’s hoping your semester is ending well!

CNDLS Curriculum Enrichment Grant Supports SOCI 274: Environmental and Food Justice Movements Trip to “Dreaming Out Loud”

CNDLS is proud to support Georgetown University faculty in their efforts to facilitate learning inside and outside of the classroom. Launched under the auspices of the Georgetown Learning Initiative (GLI), Curriculum Enrich Grants (CEGs) support course-related activities that strengthen the intellectual climate around introductory level undergraduate courses. They help faculty and students gain access to the larger DC/MD/VA community, bringing the curricular and co-curricular together to give students a richer sense of the broader implications and applications of work in a particular discipline.

Yuki Kato (Sociology) is an urban sociologist whose current research focuses on the role that urban agriculture has played in the redevelopment of New Orleans over the decade following the 2005 flood. As a CEG grant recipient, Kato traveled with her SOCI 274 class to an urban farm in Southwest DC to explore community gardens and engage with local activists. Below, we’re featuring a blog guest authored by Kato about her experience.

If you’re interested in learning more about CEGs or are considering applying for a future grant, please visit our website.


My class, SOCI 274: Environmental and Food Justice Movements, visited Dreaming Out Loud’s garden site in Southwest DC to see the concepts of environmental and food justice being put into practice in our own city. Dreaming Out Loud’s garden in Southwest is located at Blind Whino, a former church that had been converted to an event site. Based on the data presented in the maps at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Screen website, the area is notable for its proximity to Superfund sites along Anacostia River as well as for its higher rate of poverty, despite being just down the street from the US Capitol (See Figure 1).

Once we arrived at the site, we were greeted by Sumayyah Muhammad, who is the Garden Assistant for Dreaming Out Loud. Sumayyah lives in the neighborhood, and started working with Dreaming Out Loud as a volunteer in the garden. After becoming formally affiliated with the organization in the spring of this year, she has been expanding and experimenting with the garden. She spoke enthusiastically about her experiences of growing in the city, eating what she grows, working with others in the garden, and emphasized its personal, therapeutic effects while also providing her with some economic resources as well.

We were soon joined by Christopher Bradshaw, the Founder and the Executive Director of the organization, along with Starsha Valentine, Director of Operations and Resource Development at Dreaming Out Loud. Chris started the conversation by asking us to share our “food stories.” To get us thinking about the stories, he shared his own childhood memories of his grandfather who gardened as a leisure activity after full day of work, and how this shaped his early exposure to growing food and farming in the city. These personal stories helped us relate personally to the discussions to follow, while also framing the issues of food and environmental justice as something personal as well as political.

During the second half of the visit, the students and I were able to ask Chris, Starsha, and Sumayyah our own questions, including: can we scale up urban agriculture to feed the city? How do we involve younger people in environmental justice (EJ)/food justice efforts (FJ)? How do we fund these programs? What can we do as college students (who are also not of the community) to address EJ/FJ issues? Each of them provided very concrete and complex responses to our questions, but one that stood out to many of us was Starsha’s advice that one should always ask the community what they want and work with them, rather than for them.

Due to the distance between Georgetown University and the site, we were only able to spend a little over an hour out of the two-and-a-half-hour seminar time. That distance alone is a physical embodiment of the unequal distribution of the burdens of food and environmental injustices across the city, and a reminder that these issues are not only real, but not very far from where we are living and learning.

We spent the beginning of our next seminar time reflecting on our experiences at Dreaming Out Loud. It was clear that the visit left a seed of hope and reflection in both my students and myself, as we easily picked up on the conversation even though a week had passed. For some of us, meeting a person who was actually practicing what we had been learning in the classroom was an opportunity to see the applicability of the academic knowledge that sometimes could appear disconnected from “the real world,” especially when discussion gets too theoretical (e.g., how do we define justice?) and less about making concrete changes (i.e., what should we do?). For others, the words of wisdom from people who have been facing and overcoming challenges in the real world while pursuing environmental and food justice helped provided concrete ideas of how we may approach the issue in our own lives.

We extend our gratitude to Suyammah, Starsha, and Chris for taking time out of their busy schedule for our visit and sharing their experiences with us.


Supporting the Digital Humanities, CNDLS Welcomes Senior Fellow Emily Francomano

We are pleased to introduce CNDLS’ newest Senior Fellow, Emily Francomano. Associate Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and core faculty member of the Comparative Literature and Medieval Studies Programs, Francomano is focusing on work that supports the Digital Humanities. Below, read our short interview with her.

Welcome Emily! Please share your background and your research interests.

I am a scholar of Medieval and Early Modern Studies. My research revolves around three interrelated key subjects in medieval and sixteenth-century cultural production: translation, book cultures, and gender studies. While I focus mainly on the intersections of these three themes in the literature and history of the Iberian Peninsula, I continually draw upon my background as a comparatist in my analyses of how certain narratives, particularly those about gender identities, are told and re-told in many different literary and material forms, from medieval manuscripts to film. Current projects include The Libro de Buen Amor/Book of Good Love Online, a digital, interactive, and bilingual edition. As Principal Investigator of this project, I am working in collaboration with my colleague Heather Bamford (George Washington University) and training graduate students in Digital Humanities methodologies. One of the advantages of digital editions is that they can be many different kinds of editions at the same time by containing multiple views and versions of a single work. The Libro de Buen Amor/Book of Good Love Online will provide the editorial and scholarly apparatus needed by experts while also addressing students in a user friendly fashion that makes medieval texts and manuscripts readable for them.

I am also currently writing Timely Negotiations, a book on Neomedievalism in Spanish film and television. The adaptation of a pre-modern work, be it in film, television, or theater, always reflects the desire to make the past relevant and politically present for contemporary audiences. Relevance is, of course, in the eyes of the adapter and the beholder, who may or may not agree. Mass media adaptations of canonical literature and historiography abound with historical inaccuracies and simplifications. However, as I see it, it is precisely in the anachronisms of neomedieval adaptations where we can see how why the Middle Ages matter so much to the present. Neomedievalism, as both an aesthetic and political category, expresses how moderns desire the past to have been in order to explain the present.

What work is CNDLS doing that you’re particularly excited about?

What am I not excited about? I’ve been involved with CNDLS programs for years now, including Thresholds of Writing, Thresholds and Bottlenecks, the Doyle Program, Design Lab, the Faculty Domains Cohort, and ITEL. During my time at Georgetown, CNDLS has continually offered programs that have helped me to continually innovate my teaching methods, especially in terms of using technology.

Can you describe the type of work you’ll be doing as the CNDLS Senior Fellow for digital humanities?

As CNDLS Senior Fellow for digital humanities, I will be learning about and advocating for the Digital Humanities on campus and also working to bring faculty and students with interests in the digital humanities together. There are many great projects in the digital humanities underway on campus, which have by and large evolved in isolation.  I am now programing a Faculty Learning Community on the Digital Humanities, where faculty can share interests, projects and methods.  I am also working to develop a certificate program in the Digital and Public Humanities for graduate students, who increasingly find that experience in DH is not only a way to enhance their teaching and research but also a real advantage on the job market.

Virtual Reality in the Classroom

If you missed the 2017 Teaching, Learning and Innovation Summer Institute (TLISI) or would like to revisit a TLISI topic, follow along with us as as we feature various sessions on the Prospect blog over the course of the 2017-18 academic year. We’ll be sharing posts on the following themes: Teaching in the Jesuit Tradition, Incorporating Difficult and Timely Topics, Innovative Teaching Practices, Technology Enhanced Learning, Evidence-based Teaching and Learning, Inclusive Pedagogies, and Cross-Institutional & Cross-Departmental Collaborations. Many of the sessions were recorded and are viewable on Digital Georgetown (accessible by anyone with a Georgetown NetID). You can also find a links to all of our recorded sessions on the TLISI Resources page. Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for our newsletter to stay updated on posts and more!

There is nothing quite like experiencing the immersive, exciting, and sometimes overwhelming environment of virtual reality (VR) for the first time.  While typically associated with the gaming industry, VR is currently expanding its reach by branching out to educational markets. In the “Virtual Reality in the Classroom Session,” CNDLS staff members Julie Salah and Barrinton Baynes discussed their experiences incorporating VR into academic environments. They were joined by CNDLS’ Marie Selvanadin, Alfred Schoeninger, Yong Lee, and Joe King to explain the differences between Augmented Reality  and Virtual Reality.

Incorporating VR into the classroom creates unique educational experiences that benefit learning processes and environments. One of the main benefits of using VR in the classroom is the technology’s ability to transport the user to a place or environment that they would not have access to otherwise. This immersive element can help students focus their attention by lessening or eliminating distractions.   

At the TLISI session, Salah shared an Initiative on Technology-Enhanced Learning (ITEL) project titled I Object!, joined by co-creators  Evan Barba (Communication, Culture & Technology) and Tanina Rostain (Law Center). The project used a web-based card game and a VR-simulated courtroom to allow law students to learn the rules of evidence in a trial. Through the virtual environment, the students gained access to a unique, immersive experience that allowed them to role play as a defense attorney and apply their knowledge to simulated situations.

During the 2016/2019 academic year,  Baynes worked with Sarah Johnson’s (SFS-STIA) Environmental Geoscience class to create immersive videos of students taking and testing water samples from the Potomac River. These videos allowed students with disabilities to experience the trip and lab work despite not being able to attend due to safety reasons.

Following the short presentation, attendees got the chance to experience AR and VR for themselves. With different headsets like Google Cardboard, HTC’s Vive, Google’s Daydream, and Microsoft’s Hololens, everyone experienced environments from Johnson’s class videos to an alien invasion, from a bow and arrow mini game to other 360 video content they could find online. Baynes pointed out that 360 video cameras and other VR equipment could be checked out of Gelardin and used on campus, so be sure to visit them to experience VR and AR for yourself!