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(NORTHRIDGE, Calif., Nov. 27, 2007) — The original Mentor, who helped raise and educate Odysseus’ son Telemachus, took his role seriously. Two of the wise elder’s philosophical descendants, Cal State Northridge’s James Sefton and Robert Stoneham, just earned the university’s 2007 Don Dorsey Excellence in Mentoring Awards by following his lead.
Between them, history professor Sefton and Stoneham, associate director of the Learning Resource Center (LRC), have devoted more than seven decades to the mentoring of CSUN students.
At a special ceremony earlier this month, the two were saluted for their "holistic approach" to academic and personal mentoring of CSUN’s diverse body of students.
Sefton has "no clue" how many students he has mentored in his 46-year teaching career, the last 42 of which have been spent at CSUN. He estimates, however, that he has personally guided many among the 9,000 students recorded in his roster.
Still, there is no cookie-cutter approach to mentoring, described by Sefton as "a highly individualistic process, ranging from handholding to being blunt."
His approach is simple. "I tell them to 1) do things right, and 2) make things happen." The hard work of developing disciplined study habits and taking personal responsibility is indispensable to student success, he believes.
"College is a place where you have to earn your way in and earn your way out," said Sefton.
Sefton’s mentoring lasts for years, said history department chair Thomas Maddux. "He gets invited to student weddings, even occasionally as an usher, and he has been asked to speak at their untimely funerals."
One mentee appeared last semester in Sefton’s doorway, holding a package. The young man, now president of a Los Angeles/Ventura County builders and contractors association chapter, had taken the professor’s class on the Civil War. He had come bearing a war poster as a tribute to what Sefton had done for him. And what was that?, Sefton inquired. "You didnít put up with my b.s. I came in with a lot of whining and excuses; you made me do the work," came the reply.
The bedrock belief that hard work is the key to success is shared by Stoneham. "It is not always the smartest students who graduate," he said, reflecting on 30-plus years of mentoring. "What is important is how hard they work."
Stoneham’s 32 years at CSUN began in Academic Planning—now known as Undergraduate Studies. Now an LRC administrator, he also teaches developmental reading and writing classes for Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) Bridge freshmen. He serves as tutoring coordinator for the developmental math office as well, overseeing from 30 to 60 tutors per semester.
"Bob is a fantastic storyteller, and every story he tells makes a point about how important it is to [the students’] future to do the best they can in their studies," said Sheryl Thompson, LRC director.
The facility for storytelling may be a by-product of Stoneham’s days as an aspiring stand-up comedian. "But," he said, "I discovered I do better assisting people with their academic problems."
During the course of his mentoring years, Stoneham has worked and become friends with students he met as 16-year-olds who now are past 40. He has helped students get papers published, "seen some who felt hopeless turn themselves around," and seen others who could barely write an essay discover they had the capacity. "I hope I’ve been helpful," he said.
The Dorsey mentoring awards, established in 1998 by the university’s Faculty Mentor Program and the Educational Opportunity Program, are named after educational psychology and counseling professor Don Dorsey, who helped develop CSUN’s first mentor training program.
California State University, Northridge has 35,200 full- and part-time students and offers 62 bachelor’s and 50 master’s degrees as well as 28 teaching credential programs. Founded in 1958, CSUN is among the largest single-campus universities in the nation and the only four-year public university in the San Fernando Valley. The university serves as the intellectual, economic and cultural heart of the Valley and beyond.
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