Mentoring from the Heart
Donald C. Jackson
The explosion ripped into the armored vehicle on patrol in Iraq, killing the driver and shattering the left eardrum of the young soldier manning the machine gun on top of the vehicle. This event, one that changed his life forever, is still painfully vibrant in the student’s eyes and his quiet but trembling voice as he shares his wartime story with me during breakfast at a local diner, trying to decide whether or not to quit university studies in a desperate quest to restructure his life…. Over the telephone, a baby is crying in the background as an exhausted young mother with a learning disability tells me why she must miss the exam scheduled for later that morning…. A student from an isolated rural community, with a black eye from raucous activity the night before, sits in a chair across the desk from me in my university office, confused, in a state of despair, envisioning his dreams slipping away from him because of academic and social failure in the vastness of the state’s largest university…. The phone rings. The call is from the office of a U.S. senator inquiring about a student who has applied for a summer internship in Washington, D.C. that would be focused on natural resources legislation. The issues to be addressed are critical. Do I know the student well enough to make a recommendation: not just in terms of academics, but in terms of character and integrity?…. A “tough” young man drops by my office to share with me the news that he soon would be leaving the university to accept a professional position as a conservation officer with an agency in a neighboring state and to request (once again) that I not tell his classmates that he is the mystery poet whose poetry was among the selections I read to the fisheries management class that semester at the beginning of each lecture…. Another fisheries student drops by soon thereafter to tell me that he will be going to seminary (as had I) before pursuing further graduate studies in the sciences, that his undergraduate degree in fisheries solidified his commitment to good relationships between people and the Earth’s resources, and that his growing understanding of the complexity and beauty of those relationships took him across the threshold of his decision…. A brilliant graduate student drifts red-faced through the halls, on the brink of collapse from days without sleeping and eating, convinced that his data and analyses are nothing but junk and that his pending thesis based on those data will be worthless, along with his life. I refused to allow him back into the classroom or into his office or laboratory until he can produce photographs of fish he must catch while angling alone on my private fishing pond located just outside of town.