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Skidmore College

Mentors for some of life’s biggest moments

May 29, 2018
by Julia Marco

With a Skidmore liberal arts education, you’ll learn how to theorize, interpret, estimate and analyze. You’ll learn how to face problems with creativity and curiosity. As you meet new people, new ideas will widen your view and you may be surprised how often you find yourself saying, “Wow. I didn’t know that.”

But as your world gets bigger, so do your questions. Soon you may ask, “How do I choose just one path?” “Can I make a career out of this?” “Is this the right fit for me?” “Will this make me happy?”

In this installment of our “Skidmore Mentors” series, Skidmore students and young alumni share how their professors gave them the guidance and advice they needed to answer some of their biggest life questions.

Students work in a lab with their professor

“The personal connection makes me feel comfortable asking for advice on almost anything.” 

Hassan Lopez is an associate professor of psychology. Henry Stadler, Daniela Cossio and Zoe Michas are juniors and seniors in his research group.

The mentor: Hassan Lopez

“I work with multiple students in an active experiment on the effects of chronic cannabinoid use on social motivation,” says Lopez. “As we spend hours together discussing the joys and pitfalls of our work, they gain a clear-cut idea of how science is practiced and what a career scientist actually does.” 

“The experience not only opens their eyes, it also strengthens their resumes,” Lopez continues. “And it’s truly a symbiotic partnership. I couldn’t do this work without them.” 

The mentees: Henry Stadler, Daniela Cossio and Zoe Michas

Cossio remarked that Lopez’s lab “challenges me every day. As both my thesis and research advisor, he’s given me the opportunity to put all the skills and knowledge I’ve gained at Skidmore to work. I’m lucky to study under someone I not only respect but whose science interests are like mine. The personal connection makes me feel comfortable asking for advice on almost anything.” 

Stadler added that Lopez “introduced me to a close-knit research community at Skidmore. Through him, I’ve gained career-building opportunities like a tutoring job in the writing center, a neuroscience peer academic coach position and a teaching assistantship.” 

Michas said of Lopez, “The way he teaches and his passions inspired me to pursue neuroscience further. Getting to learn the ropes of behavioral research hands-on in Lopez’s lab has helped me prepare for my next step after Skidmore.”

A student talks with her professor

“Her unwavering emotional support has been integral in my success as a student.”

Diana Barnes is a teaching professor of world languages and literatures. Her mentee, junior Sarah Coker, is majoring in both Spanish and international affairs and serves in the Student Government Association. 

The mentor: Diana Barnes

“I’ve known Sarah since she took my Scribner Seminar in her first year,” says Barnes. “I’ve seen her make serious decisions that changed the trajectory of her scholarly and creative endeavors … even advising her to shave back her commitments to focus on herself, her studies and her research.”

Barnes continues, “Skidmore is the platform that Sarah has chosen, and that chose her, where she draws her inspiration and explores all of the facets of the community including work in student government, travel to Guatemala, a semester abroad, committee work with faculty, independent study, NY6 summer research and language acquisition.” 

The mentee: Sarah Coker

“I could probably write a 10-page paper on what Professor Barnes means to me,” says Coker. “She’s been an anchor for me … often reigning me in when I tried to do too many things at once, but also encouraging me to take classes outside of my majors and minors that have caught my eye. She’s helped me work toward my career aspirations. 

“Her unwavering emotional support has been integral in my success as a student. She reminds me that my health and well-being come first,” Coker continues. “At the end of the day, Professor Barnes has been a wonderful person to drink coffee and discuss life with. The genuine friendship she's offered has been incredibly valuable to me, and one of the most rewarding parts of my time here at Skidmore!”

A student and professor pose with an 18th-century sailors hat

“The responsibility was daunting, but ultimately his trust gave me the confidence to succeed.” 

Tillman Nechtman is an associate professor of history and Ben Polsky, a 2017 graduate of Skidmore, is his mentee. Polsky is now a broadcast associate for research for the CBS Evening News

The mentor: Tillman Nechtman  

“Ben Polsky was a peer mentor in my first-year seminar on Captain James Cook and soon became a history major with me as his advisor,” says Nechtman. “Truthfully, he surprised me. A quiet, soft-spoken young man, he grew into a leader through an ability to forge a sense of community and commit people to a common cause through motivation.” 

Nechtman continues, “With each conversation we had—about work, his goals, books, ideas, anything really—I got to know him better. Now that Ben’s graduated, we’ve remained close.”

The mentee: Ben Polsky

“The first lesson professor Nechtman taught me was to take a chance,” says Polsky. “With no former relationship, I walked into his office and pleaded that he take me on as a peer mentor. He shared his wacky idea to create a first-year seminar based on an 18th-century British exploration vessel. I stayed in the room … he gave me a chance.”

Polsky continues, “Our working relationship grew as I learned more and more with him as my mentor. He even included me later as a research assistant for his forthcoming book. The responsibility was daunting, but ultimately his trust gave me the confidence to succeed.”  

The support of a mentor

Tutors, critics and counselors. Listeners, observers and problem-solvers. Skidmore mentors come in all varieties, but a universal truth connects them all: They are one of the primary reasons students choose Skidmore … and one of the most common stories told about why our graduates love Skidmore.

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