Education Beyond the Classroom

Faculty Perfect the Art of Mentoring Students

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“OUR FIRST MEEAssociate Professor of Psychology Michael D. SmithTING, when you changed majors, we talked for about an hour and a half,” Associate Professor of Psychology Michael D. Smith, department chair, says to former student Kevin Bleistein.

“We talked about everything,” Bleistein recalls, “not just topics related to psychology.”

Bleistein walked away from that meeting with a new course of study and a mentor.

Bleistein took two classes with Smith, but their bond primarily formed outside the classroom while chatting in Smith’s office or grabbing lunch together. They often discussed psychological research, including Smith’s, and talked about Bleistein’s personal and professional development.

“I didn’t have a clear sense of the direction I wanted to go,” says Bleistein. “What I expected from him, and what I got, was very good professional judgment about the career path I was going on and emotional support for the tough parts of college.”

Bleistein’s career path has taken him to Philadelphia, where he is working towards a Master of Social Work from Temple University. Smith’s advice was crucial as he decided between Temple and another university in Philadelphia. Smith stressed that the most significant learning experiences in graduate school were experiential. Knowing that both schools offered great practicum and internship opportunities, Bleistein confidently chose Temple, his more affordable option.

Smith continued to support Bleistein as he moved on to graduate school. “It was such a transition to me,” says Bleistein. “I remember calling him a few times and talking about why I was really here. He was always great about being a source of support.”

Smith’s dedication to engaging with students outside the classroom is founded on the view that education is, first and foremost, about relationships. Bleistein says this relational focus can be seen in Smith’s classroom, where he avoids “pure lecture” and instead teaches in a conversational style. Moreover, he says Smith instilled in him “realistic expectations of what’s out there.” But making the most of those opportunities was up to him.

In that regard, Smith sees a parallel between his roles as professor and licensed clinical psychologist. “Psychotherapy is about building relationships with people so they can improve their own lives,” he says,“and that is exactly what education is.”

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