Transforming as a SAW Center Mentor

“I’ve found that mentoring speaking skills requires a level of engagement and interaction that’s really exciting.”

Though she has only been employed with the Speaking, Arguing, and Writing (SAW) Center for three semesters, Olivia Papp says that her interest in student mentorship began long before she applied for the position. “Initially, I wasn’t certain how interested I was in attending a women’s college,” she says, adding that it was only after visiting Mount Holyoke that she was “inspired” to matriculate. Olivia says that the SAW Center played a key role in making her decision. “I was so amazed when I heard about the services that the [SAW] Center offered. Already, in high school, I was certain that being a mentor was what I wanted to do.” Currently in her junior year, Olivia is working towards a double major in Politics and Sociology, while still pursuing extracurricular interests in debate, flute, and performance. Despite her busy schedule, she continues to seek out new ways of expanding her role as a SAW Mentor. In particular, Olivia says that mentoring for specific courses has proved consistently rewarding. “It’s thrilling to witness the individual transformation of student [speakers and writers],” she says. “Especially for first years, a single semester can make such a huge difference in their work.”

Indeed, Olivia began her tenure with SAW as a course mentor for a speaking-intensive seminar. To this day, she particularly enjoys working with students on honing their oral communication abilities. “I’ve found that mentoring speaking skills requires a level of engagement and interaction that’s really exciting,” she says. “To be able to do that in the context of one course—to develop relationships with each student—has had a huge impact on me.” Since her initial semester with SAW, Olivia has gone on to mentor for two other courses, which she says has allowed her to become “much more confident” in her role. “Currently, I’m working with Professor [David] Hernandez in a course on the politics of inequality,” she says. “It’s an amazing opportunity, since the topic is one I’ve only studied from a sociological perspective. Seeing students contend with the issues [the class introduces] has been fascinating.” Unsurprisingly, Olivia says that her favorite part of mentoring lies in the relationships she builds with her peers. Indeed, this passion for peer engagement has driven Olivia to articulate new roles for herself as a mentor. “This semester, I’ve stepped into the position of SAW Peer Liaison,” she says, explaining how she encourages other mentors to reach out and discuss their own employment experiences. “I love to hear how excited they get about their jobs!” Of course, as with all mentors, Olivia acknowledges how her job can pose certain challenges. “Especially with course mentoring, [you] have to acknowledge that students are going to vary in the extent to which they see you as a helpful resource. Of course, I realize it’s not personal, but we always want people to take advantage of the resources offered to them.” Despite these minor difficulties, Olivia maintains that working with SAW has been remarkably beneficial. “So many of the skills I’ve learned transfer into other fields,” she enthuses. “In the Center, you become very good at identifying issues that obstruct clarity or detract from the overall work product, while at the same time gain skills in communicating those detractions in a respectful manner.”

Moreover, Olivia says that SAW has made her more solution-oriented: “You’re always focused on not just articulating issues, but providing helpful strategies for improvement.” Such skills will be particularly relevant, Olivia feels, for her own career interests. “I’d like to pursue something in urban development—issues of public housing, federal policy, that sort of thing—after graduation. SAW has definitely equipped me with the ability to discuss, develop, and critique ideas, and to take advice and recommendation under advisement in a thoughtful way.” Additionally, she notes that the dynamic of mentoring itself is useful in the policy arena. “The Center promotes this wonderful dialectic of equality between peers that I find immensely helpful for professional development.” As one might expect from an experienced mentor, Olivia has plenty of advice to pass along to her fellow students. “Regardless of whether you use SAW right now, the Center is a fantastic resource to enable the communication of your ideas. Take advantage of it while you can!” For first years specifically, Olivia adds a message of collaboration. “Consider joining us! We’re always thrilled to have excited and passionate students mentoring alongside us.”