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UBC Reports | Vol. 51 | No. 6 | Jun. 2, 2005

UBC’s Inaugural Graduate Mentorship Awards

By Hilary Thomson

Commitment, consistency and continuity are the hallmarks of a successful mentoring relationship, according to two faculty members who have received the inaugural Killam Graduate Mentorship Award.

School of Nursing Prof. Joan Anderson and Creative Writing Prof. Emeritus George McWhirter have been honoured for outstanding performance by faculty members in mentoring graduate students. The award is based on sustained mentorship of many students over many years.

Anderson, who joined UBC in 1975, says she’s never thought of herself as a mentor, but has always enjoyed the process of reciprocity and sharing ideas with students.

“The best relationships are those where students are willing to have their ideas challenged. I challenge them and they challenge me,” says Anderson, who was instrumental in developing one of Canada’s first doctoral programs in nursing. “If they’re ready to explore, I can be a guide. When the student is ready, the mentor will appear!”

She cites Prof. Emeritus Roy Turner, of the Dept. of Anthropology and Sociology, as being an outstanding mentor when she was completing her own PhD at UBC.

“He shifted my thinking. It was transformative learning -- painful but exciting,” she says. Anderson’s research interests include the socio-cultural context of health and illness; gender and health; and health and public policy. She was named a 2003 Distinguished UBC Scholar in Residence at UBC’s Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies.

In addition to the satisfaction of watching her students succeed, Anderson is particularly proud when her students demonstrate they are “good academic citizens.”

“I get a tremendous sense of satisfaction when students show a sense of social responsibility and a commitment to social justice and civility. That is what brings us together.”

George McWhirter has mentored students in the Dept. of Theatre, Film and Creative Writing for 35 years and served 10 years as head of the department. This year, he won UBC’s Sam Black Award for Education and Development of the Visual and Performing Arts.

Also a UBC alumnus, McWhirter agrees with Anderson that mentoring is both a “learning and a leading” process. He says he has tried to take the best from his own mentoring experiences and “put it together for others.”

One of his students has said, “George guides without chastising, teaches without patronizing, and hopes without reservation.”

The so-called writers’ temperament isn’t a particular challenge to his mentoring, he says, since most people in academia are passionate about their work. He believes a writing workshop is not much different from a laboratory, where things are tried, challenged and explored.

“I try to keep the student focused on the work, not their feelings -- or my feelings -- about the work.”

McWhirter mentors students who write plays, poetry, prose and are involved in literature translation. Over the past six or seven years, his students have been nominated for and won the Governor General’s Award for poetry. They include winners, Stephanie Bolster and Roo Borson, and prose writers Terrence Young and Tammy Armstrong, who were both nominated for Governor General’s awards for books they worked on with McWhirter.

“When you see them establish themselves as the literary entity you saw in the embryo phase -- that’s very satisfying.”

The Killam Fellowships and Prize programs were established in memory of Izaak Walton Killam, a Canadian financier whose estate has provided substantial bequests to higher education initiatives in Canada.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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