[box]Today’s mentoring story is brought to you by one of the best thinkers in the world’s educational scene, Professor Elynne Chaplik-Aleskow. Elynne Chaplik-Aleskow is a Pushcart Prize Nominated author and award-winning educator and broadcaster. She is Founding General Manager of WYCC-TV/PBS and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Wright College in Chicago.

Elynne’s performances of her stories have been broadcast on The Bob Edwards Show on NPR and Rick Kogan’s Sunday Papers on WGN radio. Elynne has performed in NYC at the Museum of Motherhood and throughout Chicago including the Printer’s Row Lit Fest. Her work has been part of the production “Dear Mother” in L.A. at The Lyric Theater. Her adult storyteller program IN HER OWN VOICE is renowned. Her memoirs, stories and essays have been published in numerous anthologies including Thin Threads (Kiwi Publishing), Chicken Soup for the Soul (Simon & Schuster Distributor), This I Believe: On Love (Wiley Publishing), Forever Travels (Mandinam Press), Press Pause Moments (Clarion Award) (Kiwi Publishing), My Dad Is My Hero (Adams Media) and various magazines including the international Jerusalem Post.

The Mentorology cycle is made SO evident by Elynne Chaplik-Aleskow, an expert in human connection.

-Dawn Carroll, Over My Shoulder Foundation Co-Founder and Executive Director[/box]


I believe mentoring to be the hope of the human condition. This is my story.

Switching Careers to Start Work One-On-One

In January 1994, I left the role of founding General Manager of WYCC-TV, a PBS affiliate in Chicago, and joined the faculty of Wright College as Assistant Professor of Communication. I was 49 years old and changing careers. As always I had my husband’s invaluable support.

Finding a New Professional Home

The Chairperson of the Speech Department of which I was now a member gave me the choice of two offices from which to choose. The end office was smaller than the others. It had a slanted wall that reminded me of Emily Dickinson’s attic in which she would write and create her works. That thought sold me on Office L331 which became my professional home.

Setting Up Shop

The first thing I did was to hang my television and community service plaques and awards. Next I positioned the picture of my staff at the station that had been given to me as a gift. I put my teaching supplies in my desk drawer. School supplies! Whether as a student or a teacher they thrilled me. They were my earliest memories of school, of the beginning of each semester, of newness and anticipation. They were treasures.

One of my colleagues stopped by to welcome me. “I see you have already nested,” she said smiling.

I looked at the remaining spaces on the walls of my new office. I was returning to the classroom after being away for many years. Did I still have the ability to connect with students the way I had always done? Could I still create the magic I had experienced in the classroom? Would I ever receive anything from my future students or from my academic work that I could proudly hang in those spaces?

I Have Arrived

January 2007. I am a Full Professor. I have been named the 2007 Distinguished Service Professor of Wright College. My office walls are filled with academic awards and honors, certificates of acknowledgement and gifts from my students.

The memories that I cherish most in this Emily Dickinson like attic room are those that cannot be seen. The faces of the students who have visited me, the stories that students have shared with me, the work students have shown me. In my 13 years at Wright, I have taught and mentored students. I have a deep respect for the community college student who does it all at once. School, work, family… all at the same time.

The Stories of My Students

Some of the stories I have heard in this office are unforgettable. The young man with MS who struggled to overcome his fear of performance and his inability to speak clearly due to his illness. The English as a Second Language students who came to a new country, a new city and struggled to do Public Speaking in English, a foreign language to them. The single mothers and fathers who were trying desperately to arrange for affordable child care so that they could attend class. The endless stories of grandmothers who died each time an assignment was due or an exam missed. The student who looked and sounded exactly like Travolta’s character Tony in “Saturday Night Fever” and who told me that he was in college on a bet. The female students who were in doomed marriages and who were seeking another way to live their lives and to support themselves. The Muslim student who was afraid for her own personal safety after September 11th. The Caucasian male who could not understand why the family of his Hispanic girlfriend would not accept him. The student who cut herself whenever she faced pressure. Student after student afraid to speak before an audience. Students who were lonely. Students who ended relationships. Students who came back to tell me that they had completed Medical School, Law School, Graduate School. Students who got the job they wanted, the promotion they hoped for, the first apartment of their own.

I sit in my office, in the privacy of this cherished space remembering. I remember their voices, their smiles, their tears. They have been not only my work but also my family. To them I am devoted. My walls tell the story of my career. My heart holds the meaning of my career. The family of students whom I have taught will always belong to me and I to them.

Elynne’s student Will, whom she wrote about in “The Hat”.

From Student to Mentee, a Mentorology Cycle

It has meant so much to sustain friendships with several of my students. Mentoring is a lifelong process. As a New Year’s gift, I decided to e-mail each of them a copy of my essay “Life 101” published in the anthology Forever Friends (Amazon.com). Many readers and audiences have experienced this essay, but the ones who will be touched most deeply are the students whom I have taught. They are my garden. Although I am no longer in the classroom, I have the unique opportunity to see their growth and fruition and to continue my hope of inspiring their lives and dreams.

My Student’s Words of Appreciation, A Gift as Good as Gold

Some of the responses I received from my students…

Hello Professor,
Thank you for sharing your wisdom. This is one of the finest gifts anyone has given me. I really appreciate and love you for giving hope in life. ~N

Dear Professor Chaplik-Aleskow, That was quite the gift indeed! I will apply these words to my own journeys in life as my creativity awakens again! And to let you know, I am well into 3 new writing projects already! I thank you for helping me find a reason to believe in myself again! I hope the New Year has been wonderful for you thus far! For the first time in a long time, it surely has been for me! Your student and friend, ~W

Dearest Elynne, my friend, Thank you for the reminder on how to live life. You taught me these same lessons as my Speech teacher at Wright and they, as well as your friendship, are part of who I am today. Is the anthology out already? I would love to buy the book and pass this lesson on to my students. ~C

My Garden of Students

While some people cherish their roses and tulips, I have a prize-winning garden of students. Each is unique and beautiful. I have been given the gift of mentoring them and of experiencing their potential and humanity. I believe mentoring to be the hope of the human condition.

If you liked this story, you can follow the author’s continuing work at Professor Elynne Chaplik-Aleskow’s website.

[box]If you like Over My Shoulder Foundation, please SHARE your mentoring stories, consider donating to our non-profit and don’t forget to follow Over My Shoulder Foundation on Facebook too.[/box]

About Dawn Carroll

Dawn Carroll, Executive Director of Over My Shoulder FoundationThe Over My Shoulder Foundation started with a song called “Over My Shoulder,” with lyrics written by Dawn as a duet to be performed by legendary Patti Austin and one of her mentees, Lianna Guiterrrez. Dawn’s vision was to musically weave together her message: that without support and emotional sustenance we can become lost, disconnected, and unstable—as individuals and as a society. As the Executive Director of OMSF, Dawn has inspired programs like the MIDDIES, which ask people to stop and pay tribute to those who helped navigate them to success. As Dawn states, “The dream behind the OMSF is to celebrate, nominate, and reward mentors and mentees: a new cadre of creative talent which will have the leadership skills to amend many of our social and economic crises.”

One Response to “Mentoring my Students, by Professor Elynne Chaplik-Aleskow”

  1. Randey Grossman

    I am always so proud of you! What a fabulous idea. It works both ways. Giving these mentors more self-esteem and being constructive while bettering someone else. I’m in!!


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