Thursday, September 28, 2006

Finding a Mentor

I just returned from Washington, D.C., where I attended the annual Davidson Fellows award ceremony at the Library of Congress. This year's award winners are fascinating, and I strongly recommend reading their biographies here.

All the recipients spoke briefly, and thanked the grown-ups who had helped them develop their projects. I was struck by the number of non-parent mentors each had found along the way. According to the program, astrophysics whiz Adam Solomon "knocked on doors at Columbia University until he met his current mentor" who led him to study brown dwarfs. Anarghya Vardhana, a mathematician, stayed after school with a math teacher who had a PhD in number theory learning how to move from solving problems in text books to dreaming up new problems (a key shift in breaking new ground in any research-based field). Mentors can help you learn what topics are ripe for investigation. They can give you access to equipment (key for science research). They can help you hone your creativity in humanities fields from something you dream up to something the world will want to consume. Indeed, having mentors is often the difference between kids who show promise in a subject and kids who truly nurture their talents in these fields.

They're also not always easy to find. Some high-achieving kids are blessed to have teachers or parents who are well-connected with local universities, professional artists or other such folk and are able or willing to use these connections. Some, like Solomon, go knock on doors until they find these people. I'm curious how other people reading this blog have found mentors. Alas, they do not all appear like Athena, disguised, who was the original Mentor comforting lonely Telemachus. How do you find a mentor in the non-mythical world?


Quiltsrwarm said...

We haven't gotten to the point of having to find a mentor for our children, but it is a central focus of unschooled homeschoolers, especially as they reach high-school aged.

My family is one of the lucky ones with access to a university and all the trappings, but we also have a culturally rich local community that I plan to tap when the time comes. It just comes down to how involved the parents are in a child's life -- no matter how we school our children.

mominthailand said...

I am an American living in Thailand and would love to find an online mentor for my daughter. I was disappointed to learn that the Davidson program does not provide services to Americans who are not U.S. residents. Are there any programs like the Davidson Young Scholar program that can match students and mentors outside the U.S.? Thanks.