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A Web Letter from the Office of the Provost - April 2022
Provost Jay Akridge

By Mary Jane Chew

A Message from Jay

Dear Colleagues,

April has brought a blizzard of activities, events, and celebrations that we haven’t seen on our campus since 2019. I know the month is both exhilarating and exhausting as our semester speeds to a close, and I hope the exhilaration has generated enough adrenalin to help you through the exhaustion!

At their April meeting, the Board of Trustees asked me to provide a brief update on the “student mentoring requirement” that was added to our promotion and tenure process in 2016.  The requirement states:

Commitment to active and responsive mentorship, as well as an active role in mentoring, advising and supporting the academic success of students and postdoctoral scientists, will also be documented as part of the process that defines tenure and promotion.

I reported that student mentoring was now firmly embedded in our promotion and tenure process – mentoring, in some form, is present in every document that successfully moves through the P&T process. And, among our Big Ten peers, only three other universities require mentoring in some form for promotion and tenure – we remain a leader in this area.

The most rewarding part of the report for me was sharing the many ways our faculty engage in mentoring: undergraduate research/scholarly activities; experiential/honors/clinical experiences; academic and career advising/supporting awards nominations; recruitment and support of underrepresented minority students including the development of recruitment and support programs; mentoring engagement activities, such as advising service-learning projects; advising and supporting student clubs and organizations; and of course, research mentorship of graduate students and post docs. There are so many others, but this gives you a sense for the ways faculty engage our students outside the classroom.

Of course, our staff are deeply engaged in mentoring as well – and the list above covers some of the myriad ways our staff support student professional and personal growth and development. I am well aware from my conversations with students over time how fundamentally important staff mentors are to them.

For me, one of the most exciting aspects of April is seeing the results of faculty and staff mentoring – formal and informal – vividly displayed in so many different forms. Earlier this month, more than 500 faculty/staff/graduate student mentors worked with nearly 800 students who presented their work in either a poster session or research talk at Purdue’s Spring Undergraduate Research Conference.

Multiple clubs and organizations have held events and celebrations over the past few weeks. The Purdue Society of Automotive Engineers revealed three vehicles they have worked on all year for summer competitions. The Purdue Ag Week Task Force planned and conducted a campus-wide celebration of food and agriculture. Residential Life held its end-of-year banquet to recognize the outstanding work of more than 450 resident assistants and student leaders in our residence halls. Our ROTC units have held award and change of command ceremonies. The “Greatest Spectacle in College Racing” – Purdue Grand Prix – was held last weekend, engaging a literal army of students.  And, April is a time when many of our graduate students defend their theses or dissertations.

April is a time for transitions as well – some students leaving us to begin their careers, others leaving for graduate or professional school. Still others will be away just for the summer for an internship, summer job, or study abroad opportunity.

Behind virtually all of these presentations, creations, celebrations, events, jobs, internships, successful graduate/professional school applications, theses and dissertations are Purdue faculty and staff mentors. Sometimes the mentoring is formal, sometimes informal, sometimes heavy and direct, sometimes the touch is light, sometimes it is about answering questions, sometimes asking them. Regardless of the approach, providing mentoring and guidance to our students, sharing some wisdom, serving as a safety net, helping them see that they have what it takes to finish the task – and giving them the space, freedom and flexibility to put their talents fully to work in their own way – all contribute to a more fulfilling and successful learning experience for our students.

In my last column, I wrote, “Interpersonal engagement is at the heart of the residential learning experience.”  And there is just no more important form of interpersonal engagement than the mentoring you provide, in all of its many forms, to our undergraduate, graduate and professional students. I hope you will watch our students’ achievements with pride this month, knowing that you played a significant role in helping their talents, abilities and gifts bloom over the course of their time with us.

I wish each of you every success as we wrap up our Spring 2022 semester.