Moody Faculty Spotlight: Minette Drumwright
Minette Drumwright is director of the interdisciplinary Communication and Leadership degree. She has a joint appointment on the faculties of Advertising and Public Relations (Moody College of Communication) and Business, Government & Society (McCombs School of Business.) Before joining the U.T. faculty, she was on the Marketing faculty of the Harvard Business School. Her research and teaching are in the areas of ethics, leadership, corporate social responsibility, and communication for nonprofit organizations. She has won numerous teaching awards including the President’s Associates Teaching Excellence Award, the Moody College Teaching Excellence Award, the Cale McDowell Award for Innovation in Undergraduate Studies, and the McCombs Elective Course Teaching Award.
How did you first become involved with mentoring undergraduate students?
My academic mentors have played a huge role in my life, so when I first began teaching after finishing my Master’s degree, I sought to do the same for the undergraduate students I was teaching. I believe that mentoring undergraduate students is one of my most important responsibilities.
What does it mean to be a good mentor?
I think that a good mentor tries to understand her students’ interests, expand their ideas of their possibilities, and provide them support during college and beyond. Mentoring can take many forms, but it typically involves spending time listening to students and trying to understand their aspirations, interests, and needs. Office hours are a great time to start mentoring relationships, but sometimes mentoring begins when I meet with prospective students when they visit UT or when I speak to new students at summer orientation sessions or at First-year Interest Group meetings during their first semester. In addition to asking students about their academic interests, I try to ask them questions about themselves—e.g., do they have siblings, what do they like to do for fun—so that I get to know them as people. Mentoring often involves helping students make connections. For example, I try to introduce students to other faculty members, graduate students, or professionals who share their interests or can help them in ways that I can’t. I help students identify and connect with an academic program, a student organization, or internship that will enable them to explore their interests and develop their skills and capabilities. I also try to create opportunities for others to mentor my students by inviting guest speakers to my classes and bringing in Leaders-in-Residence to the Moody College, so that these people can become mentors and advisors to my students. Some of my most intense mentoring experiences have come when I have supervised students’ theses and joined them as they have delved into a topic of interest to them. Certainly, talking with students about graduate schools and job opportunities is often part of mentoring. I have found that one of the most powerful ways to mentor is to create opportunities for my students to mentor and teach others. For example, I have had the privilege of working with two Undergraduate Learning Assistants and guiding them as they learned to mentor and teach. As another example, Jennifer Jones Barbour and I arranged for students in the Communication and Leadership Club (CLC) to host high school students for an all-day leadership workshop during Explore UT. We helped the CLD students develop the workshop curriculum and prepare to lead it, and we watched them as they taught and made suggestions real-time and afterward. The high school students were enthralled with the opportunity to get to know and learn from college students.
How do you know when you're on the right track?
I don’t know that I ever know if I am on the right track at the time that I am reaching out to a student. Mentoring is, in a sense, a relational act of faith. I reach out, try to connect, make suggestions, and hope that some of my suggestions will be helpful. In retrospect, I can sometimes connect the dots and see how students have benefited. I sometimes know that I was on the right track when I see students thrive or when they seek my advice about an ethical dilemma that they face in college or after graduation. Sometimes, students tell me many years afterward how something I said or did influenced them.
How have you adapted mentoring practices during the Zoom era?
In the Zoom era, I have had to be more proactive as a mentor and seek additional ways to mentor students. For example, leading Moody Open Door Discussions has enabled me to connect with small groups of students that I would not have ordinarily met, and I have tried to follow up with them by email afterward. I have used Zoom to record interviews with recent graduates in which I solicit their advice for current students, and I have posted those interviews on Canvas. Zoom has enabled me to bring in more guest speakers, and as I noted above, some of them have been willing to follow up with my students virtually. The guests typically provide their email addresses, and I urge my students to write them. As another example, Jennifer Jones Barbour, Dave Junker, and I created two virtual speaker programs during Fall 2020 in which current students and recent graduates discussed how they had led positive change as UT students. They inspired younger students, and the program opened the door for some of the speakers to be mentors. As a final example, I have an assignment in one of my classes in which students are required to express some of their future aspirations. During the Zoom era, I have tried to write more extensive notes to students about possible “next steps” to further their interests, and I have urged them to come to my Zoom office hours for follow-up discussions. Breakout rooms are my favorite feature of Zoom, and they have enabled me to mentor students working on team projects. They also create a great context for students to mentor each other as peer editors. Not being able to meet in person has created some challenges, but Zoom has opened some opportunities as well.