Carmen Valdez, Mindi Thompson mentoring next generation of scholars


Paying it forward: Valdez, Thompson mentoring next generation of scholars

When Mindi Thompson first arrived on campus in 2009 as an assistant professor with the Department of Counseling Psychology, she remembers feeling “completely out of place.”

Thompson explains that she was struggling to understand what it meant to be a faculty member at a major research institution.

“One night I was thinking, ‘I have no idea what I’m doing here,’” says Thompson. “So I started to Google, ‘faculty development’ and ‘faculty resources.’”

That’s how she first learned about, and became involved with, the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, an independent professional development, training and mentoring community for graduate students, post-docs and faculty members. The organization not only helped Thompson understand herself as an academic at UW–Madison but it also gave her the opportunity to become a mentor herself. And today, she is the director of coach training for the center’s Faculty Success Program.

Mindi Thompson and Carmen Valdez
Mindi Thompson (left) and Carmen Valdez, faculty members with
the Department of Counseling Psychology, pose for a photo in front
of the Education Building's iconic red doors.
“This is a nice fit for me and allows me to give back to others, particularly to faculty members who are underrepresented in some way,” says Thompson, now an associate professor with tenure and the clinical training director of UW–Madison’s Ph.D. program in counseling psychology.

Carmen Valdez, who arrived at UW–Madison in 2006, says she similarly struggled early in her career. Valdez stresses that she had great faculty mentors, including the Department of Counseling Psychology’s Stephen Quintana and Alberta Gloria, but nonetheless wrestled with properly balancing her teaching, research and service commitments.

In particular, Valdez explains how she was struggling with the unique challenges of being a minority scholar. As a Latina, Valdez says she was often sought by students of color looking for a mentor.

“Like many faculty of color, more of my hours were focused on service instead of research,” say Valdez.

Valdez in 2012 attended the Health Equity Leadership Institute (HELI) — and her eyes were opened to a new way of thinking about some of these issues. HELI is an intensive, week-long “research boot camp” focused on increasing the number of investigators — particularly minority investigators — engaged in health equity research. Valdez received tips for research mentor selection and alignment, and learned about addressing work-life balance and other relevant topics.

“That institute showed me there was a method to helping others and made me want to become a mentor,” says Valdez, who became a mentor the following year and in 2013 was named the faculty director of the Advancing Health Equity and Diversity (AHEAD) program. This initiative is housed within the UW School of Medicine and Public Health’s Collaborative Center for Health Equity, and is aimed at providing networking, mentoring and access to shared resources to early career scholars and investigators in health disparities research.

Both Thompson and Valdez say their backgrounds as licensed psychologists and academics with the Department of Counseling Psychology align well with their mentoring work.

Valdez adds that the Department of Counseling Psychology’s emphasis on social justice — particularly around the topics of privilege and bias — also plays an important role in her mentoring efforts. She explains how social privilege and bias recapitulate in academia, and stresses the importance of early career scholars finding their voice and purpose in a way that feels genuine to their social identities.

“We often hear about the need to hire faculty of color,” says Valdez, who is an associate professor. “But the key to a diverse workforce is maintaining faculty of color. It’s vitally important to mentor and help people succeed.”

When asked why she puts so much time into mentoring and helping others, Valdez responds quickly and without hesitation: “The bottom line for me is I’ve seen how it can make a real and lasting difference.”
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