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Alejandra Durán Trinidad (left), a Ph.D. Student in the Brian Lamb School of Communication and winner of the 2022 Mentoring Award for Graduate Students poses with her mentor, Dr. Melanie Morgan (right) Alejandra Durán Trinidad (left), a Ph.D. Student in the Brian Lamb School of Communication and winner of the 2022 Mentoring Award for Graduate Students poses with her mentor, Dr. Melanie Morgan (right)

September 14, 2022

Mentoring Award Recognizes Two Graduate Students’ Commitment to Helping Others Take Their Next Giant Leap

Mentorship in graduate school is often focused on student-faculty relationships; however, graduate students dedicate a great deal of time to mentoring colleagues and undergraduates in and outside of the classroom. To recognize the essential role that graduate students play in our research, teaching, and engagement missions at Purdue University, each year, the Graduate School awards one or more students with the Mentoring Award for Graduate Students. This award acknowledges students that provide superior psychosocial and/or career support to peers and subordinates resulting in a meaningful impact on their personal and professional growth.  Recipients are recognized at an awards ceremony and receive a $1,500 prize.

The two graduate students selected to receive the 2022 Graduate School Mentoring Award for Graduate Students were:

  • Alejandra Durán Trinidad, Ph.D. Student in Brian Lamb School of Communication, College of Liberal Arts
  • Nokwanda Ndlovu Grava, Doctoral Student in the Counseling Psychology program, College of Education

Alejandra Durán Trinidad

Alejandra’s research focuses on mentoring relationships in graduate school, particularly those of underrepresented and/ or international students. In her mentoring statement, Alejandra shared, that she is currently working on two studies related to mentoring, one of which explores the ideal mentoring relationship from international graduate students’ perspective. “I chose to focus on international graduate students given that previous research indicates they may rely more on their academic advisors for mentoring and support,” shared Alejandra, “Through these studies, I hope to be able to provide recommendations to faculty, students, and institutions about how to prevent dysfunctional mentoring from happening in the first place and build on strategies for effective mentoring.”

Alejandra also engages in several mentoring opportunities outside of her studies, including her department’s peer mentor program, SROP/Bridge summer research mentor programs, the Colombian Student Association’s exchange student mentorship program, and the Mentoring Fellow Program. When reflecting on her experience with the Summer Research Opportunities at Purdue (SROP) program, Alejandra shared “Being a mentor in this program was important to me because I was supporting underrepresented students and giving them the guidance they need to apply and attend graduate school, which often times these students do not get.” 

In a letter of support, Dr. Jennifer Hall from the Brian Lamb School of Communication expanded on Alejandra’s dedication to excellent mentorship by sharing, “I have worked very closely with Alejandra as she has served and is currently serving as an Assistant Course Director for our basic presentational speaking course, a course that offers over 60 sections taught by over 30 individuals. She has excelled in this role. She is a great resource for our new COM 114 instructors, and I have seen firsthand her skill at mentoring them and helping them to feel comfortable in the classroom and develop their teaching skills... She has been a particularly valuable asset to our international instructors and is able to mentor and help them manage some of the unique challenges they face. Two of our current graduate students are from Columbia and they frequently meet with and speak with Alejandra to ask questions and seek her advice on teaching as well as life as a graduate student.”

Overall, Alejandra shared that her goal, as a mentor, is “equipping individuals with the tools, from an instrumental and psychosocial standpoint, at every point in their career and studies to help them be the best version of their professional and personal selves,” a sentiment that aligns perfectly with the criteria for this award. 

Nokwanda Ndlovu Grava

Nokwanda is a fourth-year doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology PhD program. In this role, Nokwanda must balance a heavy workload, including coursework, teaching, and a part-time clinical practicum. Despite this considerable time commitment, Nokwanda found time to leave her mark on the world of mentoring. In her mentoring statement, Nokwanda shared, “Over the past 7 years, I have mentored 18 first-generation college students from disadvantaged backgrounds in South Africa starting in their final year of high school… 11 of the students have graduated as first-generation graduates with degrees ranging from technical diplomas to a master’s degree,” This work includes helping students apply to universities, register for classes, and acquire funding & housing. “I work closely with the families of each student to build trust and a relationship that helps me mentor these students through university effectively,” shared Nokwanda. 

In 2021, Nokwanda received the Purdue Graduate School Grant for Advancing Social Justice and Diversity in Graduate Education, which enabled her to develop a mentoring program that helped four first-generation South African students apply to Purdue. As a part of this program, Nokwanda helped these students navigate the graduate school application process, hosted mock interviews, and helped them emotionally prepare for studying abroad. “Using my own experiences as a first-generation international student, I also discussed with each mentee what life might look like for them as they think about being students in the U.S since many were nervous about leaving their families behind,” Nokwanda shared, “Much of my mentoring and philosophy is born out of wanting to help guide first-generation students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds in giving them the guidance I never had.”

In a letter of support, Dr. Amanda Case, Nokwanda’s clinical supervisor, course instructor, and faculty advisor for the Purdue Graduate School Grant for Advancing Social Justice and Diversity in Graduate Education, said, “In a word, Kwanda is remarkable. In my 12 years as a faculty member, I have never encountered a student who has such a clear understanding of how mentoring and community engagement can transform the world.” Dr. Case expanded on Nokwanda’s commitment to mentoring by sharing that, “Even before beginning her undergraduate career, Kwanda was already working to improve the lives of those in her home country of South Africa predominantly through mentorship efforts.” She accomplished this through acting as a volunteer counselor, volunteer program director, and founding or co-founding two organizations, one of which focused on developing mentors to tutor children who grew up in orphanages. “Kwanda’s dedication to others results in her taking on multiple mentoring roles. However, as she has explained to me, she does so even with all of her multiple commitments because supporting others is core to who she is, what she values, and the impact she wants to have on the world around her,” shared Dr. Case.

Alejandra and Nokwanda are excellent examples of how graduate students dedicate their time and expertise to building a better world through mentorship both in and out of the classroom. Their devotion to providing exceptional emotional and professional support to those that need it most has helped countless students take their next giant leap.  

Writer: Brittany Ledman 

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