The Right Approach

Do the following words ring a bell? “Someday, I’m going to come back to you and let you know how I am doing, or you’re going to read about me.”

Many of us have had experiences during our developing years where someone – a relative, friend, teacher or mentor – voiced low expectations about our potential only to see us turn that negative into more fuel to achieve, even if only to prove them wrong.

The journey of Frances Contreras at the University of Washington reminds us how to deal with those who voice low expectations. A guidance counselor tried to dissuade her from attending a four-year university after high school, although Contreras was an AP student who had earned better than a 4.0 GPA and was accepted to the University of California at Berkeley and Los Angeles.

Contreras ignored the advice and took the challenge. She attended UCBerkeley, setting the foundation for a stellar career as a professor of education, author and researcher, studying, of all things, Hispanic educational achievement. Today, she is being featured in these pages as one of Diverse’s Class of 2009 Emerging Scholars.

“Emerging Scholars,” now in its eighth year, is one of our favorite editions. Who wouldn’t marvel at the extraordinary accomplishments of this select group of inspiring under-40 scholars?

They’re curious: Instead of being pricked daily with pins and needles, why can’t diabetic patients receive insulin another way, wondered the physiologist who devised an artificial pancreas to produce insulin in diabetics.

They’re driven: While some 1970s television viewers wanted to be like “The Bionic Woman,” one future electrical engineer decided, as a child, she could build a real bionic woman.

They’re passionate: One historian, who finds ivory tower conversations that are incomprehensible to non-Ph.D.s to be downright “anti-democratic,” has become a prolific writer in his attempt to spread his scholarship to the masses and get people engaged.

It’s the personal stories of challenge, dedication and perseverance many of us can relate to that makes this edition so special. You’ll find a perennial theme with Emerging Scholars: the importance of mentorship and giving back.

When you step up to be a mentor and have the opportunity to give back, make sure your approach is honest, constructive and compassionate. Not every young mind will turn the negative energy into positive action as did Contreras. We have quite an influence on the young, even when we don’t realize it. Let’s use it wisely. You may be talking with a future Emerging Scholar.

Email the editor: editor@diverseeducation.com

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