Outstanding Faculty Mentor Awards honoree on how collaboration in mentorship is essential to community-building
Name: Jada Ach
Introduce yourself, where are you from?
I grew up in Eastern Indiana and spent a large portion of my adult life in the Southeastern and Southwestern U.S. I feel at home in desert environments, so much so that deserts have become a central focus in my research, creative work and interdisciplinary studies curriculum. I'm an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Interdisciplinary Studies and Master of Liberal Studies programs.
Please tell us about your academic and professional background.
When I was a high school student in the late 1990s, I was sure I wanted to be a newspaper journalism major — I went to journalism camp for three summers and everything! I ended up attending Ball State University with a major in newspaper journalism, where I worked as the multicultural beat reporter and assistant news editor for the daily student newspaper. As much as I loved the process of seeing a paper come to life every evening, a few of my general studies courses made me realize my heart was really in creative writing and literature. During my sophomore year, I switched to a double major in English and Spanish with a double minor in women’s studies and cultural anthropology. (Too bad a degree in interdisciplinary studies wasn’t offered at Ball State then) I went on to earn a MA in creative writing-poetry from Northern Arizona University, followed by a PhD in American literature from the University of South Carolina. I took breaks between each degree to work as an assistant teacher at an at-risk high school in Tucson, a part-time instructor at Diné College-Tuba City, and an English instructor at a community college in North Carolina. These early experiences in the classroom, though a little scary at first, were exhilarating; I’m so glad I listened to my heart and changed my degree plan when I had the chance. (I do miss the collaborative energy of the newsroom, however!)
How did you become involved in mentorship?
Some of my earliest experiences with mentorship happened in college writing centers. I’ve worked as a writing tutor in three “in-person” writing centers and one online writing center, which gave me a lot of experience working one-on-one with students on brainstorming, developing, and refining projects and assignments. Students come to writing centers with varying levels of confidence in their writing, so a big part of the job of a writing tutor is to demystify the writing process by making students feel safe to pursue ideas that engage them. I taught creative and academic writing for nearly 15 years and spent a lot of time mentoring students through various research and writing projects. I first started mentoring graduate students in 2021 when I joined the faculty of Arizona State University's Master of Liberal Studies program.
What are some of the approaches and methods you use in your mentoring?
- Each time I mentor a student, I learn something new. I view mentorship as a kind of collaboration. I don’t need to have all the answers; instead, I must be willing to listen and create a path for my students to be their own knowledge-makers.
- I’ve also learned that students often know what they want to say in their writing and research but need help finding the language to state it. Mentorship isn’t always a process of helping students discover an idea for the first time (although it is sometimes that); instead, it is a process of helping students develop a way of expressing unspoken values and insights that already exist inside of them. I love helping students do that kind of meaningful work.
- Ultimately, I want them to feel safe and inspired. I support my mentees’ career and professional development in multiple ways, including helping them prepare for conference presentations, guiding them through the academic publication process, facilitating professional networking, and other opportunities that encourage growth, engagement, and personal enrichment.
- After teaching my first MLSt course, I contacted one of my students to suggest they consider publishing their final paper. This student expressed a lot of interest in publishing their first paper, and together we developed a timeline for preparing the paper for a specific journal. The student and I would meet via Zoom two or three times a month to go over the most recent draft, discuss the conventions of academic journal articles, and make plans for submitting the paper. I believe the student is waiting to hear about the status of their submission.
- I am dedicated to helping my students prepare for academic conferences and workshops. In 2021, Megan Todd (the current MLSt Director) and I mentored a student on a presentation they were preparing for the Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs Conference; this was the student’s first conference presentation, and, due to the pandemic, they were asked to present the paper virtually. Dr. Todd and I provided feedback on multiple drafts of her slide presentation and offered guidance on how best to present her research virtually. According to the student, the presentation was a success!
- Additionally, I love helping students build relationships with individuals in fields of interest. This past fall, I put one of my x students in contact with one of my former colleagues who, similar to my student, does work in creative nonfiction and fat studies. Part of the work of a mentor is to encourage students to network, which, I believe, allows them see how their work has the power to connect them to a broader community of writers and scholars. My student and former colleague have exchanged many emails, and I’m hoping future collaborations might develop from their new friendship.
- Finally, I am passionate about helping students navigate the doctoral program application process, which can be daunting. In 2021-22, I mentored an MLSt student as she prepared her application materials for the University of San Diego. In addition to writing one of her letters of recommendation, I also provided feedback on a few versions of her statement of purpose and writing sample. She got accepted to the Justice Studies Program, and I couldn’t be more happy for her!
How have you interacted with the Grad College? Is there an event, initiative, or funding opportunity you’re excited about?
As a career-track faculty member, I haven’t interacted much with the Graduate College until this year, but look forward to participating in the Graduate Faculty Mentoring Academy. I feel lucky to be a part of that student-centered community.
What organizations or individuals outside of ASU do you network with?
I am highly active with the Western Literature Association, Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment, Science the Earth, and a small, local (but global!) network of desert humanities scholars. These organizations and groups provide many opportunities for networking and collaborating, and I learn so much about being a teacher, scholar
Congratulations on being named an Outstanding Faculty Mentor - what does this award mean to you?
Being nominated by a student is incredibly meaningful. Community-building and collaboration are at the heart of my work as a teacher and mentor, so being nominated for this award is the highest honor in my book.
What advice do you have for students who are interested in finding a mentor or mentoring others?
Mentorship is community-building — surround yourself with mentors who will lift you, listen to you, and make time for you. Choose the mentors who make you feel seen and cared for. Sometimes you’ll find that the chemistry is not there with a mentor, and that’s okay. As with any relationship, not every mentor-mentee relationship works. It is okay to admit when things are not working. Those are complicated conversations, but you — and your work — will be much better for it in the long run.
The mentorship I gained from my doctoral committee at the University of South Carolina — specifically, from my advisor, Cynthia Davis — showed me that mutual trust and respect are critical ingredients in the mentor-mentee relationship. My dissertation committee provided me with a safe space to engage in the kind of work I wanted to do, and I never felt pressured to make claims in my research that did not feel like my own. The encouragement from Dr. Davis and the rest of the committee made me feel like I owned my work from the beginning.
Furthermore, if I encountered roadblocks in my research, I knew I could reach out to my committee members to ask their advice. They never responded with judgment and, instead, nurtured my curiosity. As a result of their leadership, I came to understand what it feels like to be granted the space to experiment and explore in my research. Now, with my own mentees, I try to create this same kind of experimental space where students feel free to take creative and scholarly risks.
What are some of your long-term professional goals?
I hope to keep engaging in meaningful, collaborative ways with my environmental humanities networks — and I am excited to create opportunities for students to engage with those networks as well.
The Graduate College is dedicated to professional development and believes mentorship is a necessary foundation in academic growth and career development.