No Nagging: Mentor Helps Navigate Transition to CollegePosted on: January 1, 2011 in People & Places
“Students must take ownership of their education,” said Mikelle Smith Omari-Tunkara, “Dr. O,” as she is affectionately and respectfully known.
Omari-Tunkara retired this spring as professor of African & Diaspora Art History, Methods, and Theory at the UA School of Art. A leading scholar in that art history subject area and in African-American art and culture, she has a lengthy, accomplished curriculum vitae (commonly referred to as “CV”) packed with teaching and administrative positions, international lectures and scholarly publications.
Nevertheless, she makes time to reach out to students with guidance, advice and lessons in responsibility.
“I love students,” said Omari-Tunkara, who mentored two Arizona Assurance scholars this past year. Founded by UA President and his wife, Dr. Robert N. and Adrian A. Shelton, Arizona Assurance enables Arizona families making less than $42,400 per year to send their children to college and graduate debt free. A critical component of Arizona Assurance is faculty mentoring.
As an Arizona Assurance mentor, Omari-Tunkara said she helped the scholars “navigate the system” and let them know what resources are available. Arizona Assurance requires scholars to meet with a mentor twice a semester during the first year, said Mary Irwin, Ph.D., who matches Arizona Assurance scholars with faculty/staff mentors. Mentoring brings to the scholars advocacy and personal guidance to an often overwhelming university system and situation.
“High school is very different than college,” Omari-Tunkara said. “There is more expectation of independence.”
With independence come choices that Omari-Tunkara helps the scholars navigate proactively. “If they miss class, I encourage them to call the professor. If they are struggling, I encourage them to talk to the professor and possibly seek tutoring.”
While she focuses on academics, Omari-Tunkara establishes rapport by telling the scholars they can ask her anything.
“When a mentoring relationship works, serious issues can come up,” she said, “but that takes time and persistence.”
Omari-Tunkara started mentoring when she was about 11-years-old when she lined up her cousins on the steps of her home for “lessons”. From 1995 to 1999, she directed African-American Partners for Success, a mentoring program she founded that paired UA students with TUSD students to help put the younger students on a college-bound track.
She has mentored students as a favor to friends and is a member of Faculty Fellows, a program that puts faculty in about 30 non-classroom campus venues to connect with students in a personal, non-traditional university setting. Residents of Manzanita-Mohave Hall may remember Omari-Tunkara’s regular presence last year.
“A mentor is not a nag, but more of a coach,” she said. “It is a valuable, free resource that can help students successfully make the transition to college.”
The mentoring relationship also benefits the faculty member, Omari-Tunkara emphasized. “It is very rewarding and energizing.”
Faculty members can been isolated in the classroom, and being a mentor can help faculty members be more well-rounded by sharing part of themselves on a deeper level.
“It’s not as time consuming as one would think,” she added.
Arizona Assurance is welcomes its third cohort of scholars to campus this fall, according to Irwin, who was recruiting mentors in mid-summer. She needed 525 mentors to begin the semester.
Omari-Tunkara plans to keep in contact with the scholars she has mentored, even though one transferred to Arizona State and she will be spending more time in Memphis because she holds the Dorothy Kayser Hohenberg Chair of Excellence in Art History at the University of Memphis.
"In the mentoring relationship, I talk about their strengths,” said Omari-Tunkara. “I tell students not to do just enough or focus on a letter grade. I tell them to honestly do their very best — and then a little more.”
For more information about Arizona Assurance, to volunteer as a mentor or to donate, visit http://assurance.arizona.edu