When health and human performance professor Lesley Scibora stressed to students that cellphones were not to be used during class, something about that emphasis stuck with junior Chris Hornung.

So, after reading a book about reclaiming conversations and considering doing research on how cellphone use by students at St. Thomas fit in, he approached Scibora for direction. Not because it was directly in her field (“I didn’t know if it was something she would go for at all,” Hornung said) but because he had gotten to know her throughout the semester and felt comfortable approaching her.

“It really just kind of clicked,” Hornung said.

Since then Scibora has helped Hornung connect with other resources on campus to kick-start his ongoing research project, which has continued under her guidance. Looking back on how the whole process played out, it was surprising to Hornung how organically such a strong mentor-mentee relationship flourished.

“I was looking for a mentor, but I don’t think when I got into conversation with Lesley that’s anything I had in mind. … It kind of just happened. I just got a mentor. It’s great,” he said. “I don’t feel I had to necessarily work to try to find one; it kind of came out of nowhere. It was in the back of my mind, and I didn’t think I had a mentor until I realized I had one.”

Countless similar relationships have cropped up between students and faculty at St. Thomas, especially when research can be a catalyst for more time together outside the classroom.

“You get to see them grow and learn something in an area that totally interests them. It’s what jazzes them, and you can get behind it and support it,” Scibora said. “You see them grow and learn and take responsibility and leadership. What’s better than helping provide an opportunity and letting them run with that?”

Scibora said it’s no accident she ends up with multiple students asking to work with her in any given semester; she “plants seeds” in class and makes a point to be available to everyone if they want to pursue something with her.

“I try to show up to class early, talk with them, get to know them. And I make it a point the first day of class to let them know that I’m here to help them succeed. I’m here to help you learn and be successful. They always know I’m on their side, and to me that’s important they know that,” she said. “That has made for good relationships with my students.”

“I didn’t think I would be doing research, but the ability to have a relationship with your professors is there, here at St. Thomas. You get in contact with them, they’re always there before classes to talk about the course or talk in general,” Hornung said. “Conversation opened up the avenue to build a relationship and then to do research and have other opportunities in general.”

Scibora said she has been impressed with Hornung’s ambition and independence, while Hornung pointed out the benefit of having someone like Scibora in his corner.

“I just think it’s awesome, and I think the school does allow those relationships to grow. It allows that mentor relationship more so than other schools,” Hornung said. “The idea you can get in contact and have off-the-cuff conversations and not be intimidated, and that you can talk with professors and not a [teacher’s assistant] or something; you can go right to the person with all that knowledge. It’s great.”

Editor’s note: One of the most common benefits students cite about their St. Thomas education is the ability to connect personally with faculty members, which supports students’ academic work and their growth as people; the value of knowing they are “not just a number” is immeasurable for students. With the “Tommie Mentors and Mentees” series, the Newsroom has sought to illustrate what that value means for specific student-faculty pairs.

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