Lincoln, Neb. —This spring I had the privilege of hooding doctoral student Pearl Avari, my first doctoral student whom I advised from the time she was accepted into the Human Sciences program with a specialization in early childhood education and child development. I held back tears as I walked beside her for the graduation ceremony in the Bob Devaney Sports Center, and she pointed to where her family sat. She had not seen her parents, who live in India, for five years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and for other reasons. Her father wrote that “it was one of the best days in our life when our daughter Pearl Avari was conferred her Ph.D.”
Cultivating, growing, and uplifting the skills of graduate students through advising, mentoring, teaching and supervising carries enormous responsibility, joy and continuous learning. It is through advising and mentoring that graduate students can feel a stronger sense of belonging, foster hope and develop their identity as a scholar.
It was with deep gratitude that I had the opportunity to be part of Avari’s doctoral journey these past five years. I remember when she first approached me to be her advisor. Avari was a preschool teacher and said she had an interest in having a larger impact on the early care and education system by supporting the well-being of early childhood teachers. She believed obtaining a Ph.D. with UNL’s Child, Youth, and Families (CYAF) Studies department, with me as her advisor, would help her achieve this goal.
In reflecting upon my time advising Avari, I was asked to think about: what contributed to her success? Looking back, I see that what led to her success was her passion, openness to learning, motivation, commitment and the reciprocal relationship we developed. Avari learned from me, and I learned from her as her mentor. Our relationship was built on mutual respect, and I tried to be available to offer support, hope, encouragement and advice, and to navigate the many ups and downs that come with being a doctoral student.
I continuously pushed Avari to reflect and critically think about what she needed to do to progress as a student to achieve her professional goals with some freedom to engage in her scholarly work in the way most fruitful for her. However, what contributed to her success more than my support as her advisor and mentor was the community she was fortunate to be a part of at UNL and in the CYAF department. She had many faculty, graduate students and Extension educators who supported her and provided mentorship to become the impactful and successful scholar she is today. Having this supportive community has been essential in Avari’s successful completion of her doctoral degree.
“Graduate school has been a fruitful and fulfilling journey,” Avari said. “I am grateful for the opportunity to work on impactful research. Completing my Ph.D. amidst a global pandemic could have been a big challenge, but thank you to the mentorship and support of my advisor for a smooth and successful completion of my program.”
Now as Avari begins her career as an Extension specialist at the University of California, Davis, I feel hopeful that she will bring out the best in her advisees and will be a supportive mentor developing positive relationships, fostering community, and, through her scholarship, contributing to meaningful impacts for teachers, children and communities.