Mentor comes from ancient Greek and quite literally means "thinking man," although today, few people correctly extrapolate by referring to a thinking woman as a mentrix. In today's world the noun has come to mean a tutor, coach, trusted counselor or guide. The benefits of mentoring know no bounds of age or gender, and require chiefly a willingness to give of oneself and learn from another. Fortunate people can find themselves in either the role of mentor or recipient of mentoring many times over the course of a career. The rewards enrich both participants. I want to take a few words here and now to thank four of those, two living and two dead, who mentored me as a psychologist.
The first, among these, the late Robert Chin, taught psychology at Boston University. As a sophomore, I had the good fortune to land accidentally in his social psychology class. The course met a requirement and fit an open time slot in my schedule. As I courted disaster in physical chemistry and advanced calculus, I became increasingly engaged by Bob's ability to explain complex interpersonal and attitudinal phenomena. Despite an overloaded schedule, he took me on as an anxious major-switching advisee and guided me until graduation.
Next came Freda Rebelsky, also a professor at BU, who taught with passion and a commitment to her students I had never before encountered. The course was developmental psychology, but the topic was life, engagement in the learning enterprise and social activism. She regularly welcomed students into her home and family life, making a point of knowing us as people. Ever focused on advocacy for children and families, she taught me the importance of civic engagement by psychologists. Though well past 80, Freda has not slowed much and daily peppers me electronically with messages about important social issues.
In the fall of 1968, I left Boston for graduate school in rural Missouri and found myself assigned as an advisee to Fred McKinney-a New Orleans native with a 1931 doctorate from the "functionalist tradition" of the University of Chicago. Despite the fact that the corpus of knowledge in clinical psychology had sprung to bloom well after he'd left grad school, Fred seemed a master of the current professional literature and, in a great innovation of the time, delivered lectures to general psychology classes across campus by television. He encouraged and sup ported me to take on research topics that interested me, even though far afield from his own work, enabling me to wrap up two degrees in three years on campus.
Each of the prior experiences flowed from deep personal connections and close mentoring contact, but I never met my fourth special mentor until years after his help had ended. The year was 1970: I'd just defended my master's thesis, and Fred said, "You ought to try to publish that." Not knowing any better, I sent it off to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, having no clue, and hence feeling no intimidation, regarding that publication's prestige factor or rejection rates. An editor named Walter Mischel, then at Stanford, took an interest and guided me through two sets of revisions to my first professional publication. I did send a letter of thanks at the time, without truly realizing how rarely editors have the time to invest such energy in assisting unknown junior colleagues. More than 20 years later I spotted his name tag at an APA convention and stopped to tell him how important and inspiring his help had felt. I think my gratitude embarrassed him.
In the next few months you will see and hear quite a bit regarding one of my presidential initiatives, the Centering on Mentoring project. A superb, energetic group of colleagues, listed below, will be helping to initiate transgenerational mentoring activities across APA. I hope you will join in the effort.
The task force members, listed with their affiliations and the year they completed their doctorates are: Jessica Henderson Daniel, PhD, 1969, Children's Hospital Boston, chair; Joseph F. Aponte, PhD, 1970, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Louisville; Georgia T. Chao, PhD, 1982, Department of Management, Michigan State University; Haydee M. Cuevas, PhD, 2004, SA Technologies, Orlando, Fla.; Benjamin D. Locke, PhD, 2002, Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, Pennsylvania State University; Janet R. Matthews, PhD, 1976, Loyola University, New Orleans; Mark A. Vosvick, PhD, 2000, Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine, University of North Texas, Denton; Danny Wedding, PhD, MPH, 1979, Missouri Institute of Mental Health, St. Louis; Tanya E. Williamson, PhD, 2001, Counseling Center, Syracuse University.