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Mariel Muir Award Luncheon

Date of release: 10/31/02

Remarks by President Denise Trauth
Location: Reed parr room, 11th floor JCK Building.

Thank you so much for asking me to be with you today.

The last three months have been incredible for me. I’ve met such nice people and learned so much about this wonderful university. I’m getting pretty good at putting names with faces, and I see many faces here that are familiar. If we haven’t met, please introduce yourself after this lunch. I’d like to meet you.

Of course I’m glad to be here at Southwest Texas. You’ve probably heard me say that. But along the way, I’ve been discovering little things here and there that make me glad all over again. One of those things is the Mariel Muir Mentoring Award. What a wonderful thing to reward mentoring! Not many universities do that; I’m proud of Southwest Texas for recognizing the value of mentoring. And I understand that the award is named for a particularly active mentor, a former dean. I wish I had had the privilege of knowing her.

Fourteen years ago when I was the new associate dean of the Graduate College at Bowling Green, I was asked what topic I would choose for an address to new graduate students. I chose mentoring. I chose that topic because I believe that mentoring plays a large role in success at all levels. When I went to UNC-Charlotte as graduate dean, I was asked to develop a strategic plan for the Graduate School. One of the goals we articulated was the establishment of a mentoring award. I am pleased that two years ago UNC-Charlotte was able to make the first award. So you can imagine how pleased I was to see that Southwest Texas has an annual mentoring award.

In Greek mythology, “faithful and wise” Mentor was Odysseus’ trusted counselor, a wise man entrusted with the education of Odysseus. Today you might think of Yoda in Star Wars or Gandalf in Lord of the Rings. But not all mentors are shriveled little pointy-eared creatures or old men with long gray beards, are they, Joann [Smith, honoree]?

Today we refer to a mentor as a “person higher in the organization or more experienced who serves as coach, teacher, exemplar, counselor, provider of moral support, and facilitator of the realization of the protégé’s dream.

  1. A mentor is a role model, an enhancer of professional advancement. A true mentor takes a personal interest in the career of the protégé and guides or sponsors him.People who study the mentoring process report that it is during the early part of a person’s career that a sponsor or mentor is important. That is the learning and growing period, the time when a person seeks out guidance and has the readiness to accept the wisdom of one with more experience in the organization. Research on mentor-protégés in the business world indicate that “executives who have had a mentor earn more money at a younger age, are better educated, are more likely to follow a career plan, and, in turn, sponsor more protégés than executives who have not had a mentor.”
  2. Although one study that I looked at concluded that both executives with and without mentors work very long hours, those executives who have had a mentor “are happier with their career progress and derive somewhat greater pleasure from their work.” They work hard but they are very satisfied with the pay-off for that hard work.
  3. When participants in another study were asked to rank the characteristics most important for a mentor to possess, they gave the highest value to the mentor’s “willingness to share knowledge and understanding.”
  4. This is the essence of the concept of mentoring: the sharing by an insider of her sense of how to master the learning curve in the organization. A mentor is supportive, available and willing to run interference when this is required.

But a mentor also pushes her student. A good mentor creates an environment in which the protégé continues to be stretched and challenged by what may seem to be, at times, unreasonable demands upon time, energy and capabilities. However, these demands are made within the context of a relationship in which the mentor has in mind the best interests of the protégé.

So, we have established that mentors are wonderful and we’re here to honor two people who are, indeed, wonderful. But what if you’re out there thinking that mentors do sound wonderful and you’d like to have one? How do you find one? My advice is to pick out role models who exhibit qualities and traits that you admire and wish to emulate. Identification with role models can be one of the most powerful growth facilitators and behavior modifiers available to you. This is a big university. Look around and I’m sure you’ll find someone worth emulating. And most people, particularly in a university setting I think, are flattered to be asked to be mentors, so don’t be afraid to ask.

This mentor-protégé relationship can help you work on several essentials for succeeding in an academic setting, whether you’re faculty or staff. Let me be your mentor a moment and give you some of what I have come to believe are essentials in this success:

  1. Collaborate with your colleagues but compete with yourself. Some authors in the field of organizational development have suggested that if you didn’t play football as a child, you can’t be a team player as an adult. They miss the important issue: It’s not whether you learned to tackle as a kid, but rather whether you learned to work in harmony with others. The facility for collaborative effort is very important in life. Use competition as a positive force by using it to compete against your own best effort. Don’t waste your time and energy competing against your colleagues. This is counterproductive in the long run. Use that energy to pursue excellence in yourself.
  2. Learn optimism. Research has demonstrated that optimism can be learned — and that there is a relationship between thinking optimistically and succeeding. (5) Optimistic, successful people believe three things. First, most problems are temporary. Second, one problem area does not guarantee failure in all areas. And third, you have more control than you think you have. Make sure that the evidence is there before you consign yourself to failure.
  3. Don’t hide your light under a bushel. Many of you, by virtue of your gender or your cultural background, have been socialized to believe that it is somehow wrong to call attention to yourself or your achievements in an overt way. You have been taught that one must wait to be noticed, to be recognized, to be asked. I am not suggesting that you break with all of your family or cultural traditions, but you must realize that you cannot depend on others to “toot your own horn.” This can be accomplished without earning you the reputation of a braggart. Show interest in and take pleasure in the achievements of others, and communicate your own achievements in this context. Remember that it is your career and that no one has more to gain from your advancement than you do.
  4. Maintain your identity and integrity. I hope that you won’t construe my remarks about mentoring as suggesting that you should ride on the coattails of a mentor. You need to build your own identity upon the quality of your own performance. This is not to say that advisors and mentors will not contribute to and enhance your performance and potential. They will. But the process needs to be one of personal growth and development of your unique potential, your intellectual identity. You must gain credibility in your own right.
  5. Finally, Be open to new experiences. There is an old proverb that says, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. A wise old woman* once said “A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” Be ready for new adventures.

Today we want to honor two among us — one faculty and one staff — for their mentoring efforts. Our first honoree is from the Division of Student Affairs. She has served as a leader of many teams in the division and adviser to two Greek student organizations. She has enthusiastically participated in the Mentoring Program since its beginning, frequently serving as mentor to two or more students at the same time. She has been honored by the program as an outstanding mentor and as Staff Mentor of the Year. One letter of nomination read, “She literally cannot cross campus without being greeted warmly by students she has worked with or advised in some capacity. She knows them all, and her ability to remember details about their lives demonstrates the depth of her caring for individual students. We are privileged to present the Mariel Muir Excellence in Mentoring Award to our associate vice president for student affairs, Joann Smith.

Our faculty honoree has been a professional journalist at metropolitan newspapers in Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, San Antonio, Fort Worth and Houston. He is passionate about his profession and passes the benefit of this passion and experience on to his students. He has been honored with numerous teaching awards, including the 2001 Teacher of the Year Award from the Freedom Forum. He advises two student organizations, mentors other faculty members as well as students, sits on the advisory board of the student newspaper and advises theses — all activities requiring personal relationship with students outside the classroom. One writer said that whenever weather permits, you will see him sitting with one of his students on a bench between Old Main and the Art Building in deep discussion about career opportunities or a specific class project. We are delighted to present the Mariel Muir Excellence in Mentoring Award to mass communications associate professor Fred Blevens.

Grace Murray Hopper, (1906-91), U.S. mathematician, naval officer and computer pioneer.

  1. Keele, R. “Mentoring or Networking? Strong ties and weak ties in career development.” In Not As Far As You Think ed. by L.L. Moore. Lexington, MA.: Lexington Books, 1986, p. 58
  2. Roche, G.R. “Much Ado about Mentors.” Harvard Business Review. January-February 1979, p. 15.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid, p. 21.
  5. Seligman, M.E.P. Learned Optimism: How to change your mind and your life. New York: Knopf, 1998.