Get to Know the Music Mentoring Program

It’s May 2023, crunch time for final papers, and sophomore Sara Shiff is taking a much-needed cuddle break with Mlada, first-year musicology graduate student Rachel Glodo’s pug. Shiff has ventured off campus for the day to spend time with Mlada and Glodo, Shiff’s “music mom,” at Glodo’s off-campus cottage. On campus, students are squirreled away in library carrels, campus coffee spots, and dorm rooms, racing against the clock to meet deadlines and make the grade. But here, in this idyllic, cozy haven, Shiff and Glodo pass the hours writing, chatting, and indulging in bursts of Mlada-induced serotonin. 

Glodo and Shiff met during the Spring 2023 semester through the Music Mentoring Program, a popular departmental initiative that facilitates opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to connect via either one-on-one mentorship pairings or group mentorship pods and explore questions related to their academic experience. 

The program was founded by fifth-year graduate student Natalie Miller as a means of bridging a gap between two historically distinct student populations.

“In my experience, there’s a very clear divide between graduate students and undergraduate students at Princeton. I wanted to create an intentional space for graduate students and undergraduate students to get to know one another and establish a social connection.” — Miller

Miller, whose core research in the Music Cognition Lab focuses on the ways in which music influences attention and engagement in multimedia, attributes her own path toward her current field to the guidance of graduate student mentors she encountered during her undergraduate years: “I benefited so incredibly much from the informal and formal mentorship that occurs in programs both across and beyond campus.” It was a dynamic that she found lacking when she arrived on campus in Fall 2019, and one which was only further exacerbated by pandemic-era limitations. So in Spring 2022 she brought it up during a lunch with then-Chair of the Music Department Wendy Heller, hoping to change the paradigm within her home department. 

With the support of the department, Miller began building what would become the Music Mentoring Program. She secured just enough funding between a University Administrative Fellowship and a TigerWell seed grant to pilot the program in Fall 2022. The goal: establish two matches by December 2022 and provide funding for the pairs to meet over coffee several times during the academic year. By August, 22 graduate student mentors had committed to the full 2022-23 academic year; but the question remained whether the undergraduate students would demonstrate interest. Come December, 23 undergraduate students had signed up. Miller and her co-coordinators were going to need more money.

Today, Miller and graduate students Cara Turnbull and Max Vinetz are the wizards behind the curtain, making all matches (34 since September 2022), facilitating mentor training, planning events, and generally ensuring that operations run smoothly year-round. They’re supported by a team of advisors, both informal and formal, across the Music Department, McGraw Center, and TigerWell, the campus health and well-being initiative that provided the initial seed grant for the program and has since generously enhanced its support to meet demand. 

With the close of the 2022-23 academic year and the Music Mentoring Program’s inaugural year complete, Miller and her colleagues are forward looking, planning what comes next for the 2023-24 school year. There are, of course, the continued objectives of increased social connectedness and departmental transparency. For example, mentee Gabrielle Hooper, a first-year musicology graduate student, leveraged the support of the Music Mentoring Program over the past year to navigate a new department, while mentee Micah Petit-Bois, a freshman Computer Science major, found her second home in the Music Department. 

 “I needed to get my bearings and feel established in the department. It has been incredibly helpful to have a mentor, even though I am at a stage where one might expect me to start mentoring.” — Hooper

“From this program, I have learned that loving music is a good enough reason to pursue it.” — Petit-Bois

For other mentees still, a mentor provides crucial support as they navigate the shift to adulthood: Glodo, a former foster parent to teenagers, shared that a treasured aspect of mentoring Shiff has been “helping [her] step up to new challenges, like writing an intimidating email or figuring out how to stay engaged during long lectures.” And while Shiff is only a sophomore, upperclassmen who engage in the Music Mentoring Program increasingly gravitate toward topics around post-Princeton life as the days and weeks churn toward graduation day.

“A few weeks ago, my mentee and I sat under the sun in 80 degree weather while sipping iced coffee. For hours, we talked about his creative goals, as well as his unknowns. He was curious about where to apply to grad school, or if he should do so at all. I told him that no matter where he ends up, it’s important that your environment and community value you.” — Vinetz

Thanks to the generosity of TigerWell, Miller and her colleagues are creating space for more formalized conversations around these topics, too, with plans for events and engagement with department alumni likely coming to fruition in the upcoming academic year. 

Through the support of TigerWell director Anne Laurita and the McGraw Center’s Laura C. Murray and Kelly Godfrey, they’re also expanding the goals of the program to encompass the prioritization of mentoring efforts across the university. In the 2023-24 academic year, Miller and her colleagues will hire and train the program’s first ever Outreach Chair, who will liaise with other mentoring programs and groups across campus, sharing key resources and working toward the development of a robust and formalized cross-departmental mentorship network. 

For Miller, the past year has been a joy: “One of the biggest takeaways for me has been learning about all of the different ways that people can engage with mentorship.” As she considers her own next steps, she is carefully considering how she will continue to build mentorship into her career post-Princeton. She knows that whatever path she decides to pursue, she’ll have the support of at least 34 pairs of fellow students to bounce ideas off of.

Interested in becoming a mentee or mentor? Join the Music Mentoring Program welcome event on September 14 from 5:30PM to 7:30PM in the Woolworth lobby.

Visit the Music Mentoring homepage to learn more.

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