“Better done than perfect.”
I don’t remember when I first heard Dr. Greg Eiselein say that. What I do know, though, is that I say it at least once a semester (usually more) to the McNair Scholars that I work with. I explain to them that a professor from English would tell that to all of the graduate students when we were stressed about perfecting our papers.
If you had asked me a decade ago what I would be doing in 2021, the possibility of working for the TRIO McNair Scholars Program at K-State and pursuing my Ph.D. in Student Affairs in Higher Education would have never crossed my mind. Neither could I have guessed that, in November of 2021, I would have just completed my role as co-chair for the MKN McNair Heartland Research Conference with over 200 in-person attendees.
Photo: David Coria (B.S. ’20, Mathematics and Physics) and Maggie Borders at the MKN McNair Heartland Research Conference (September 24-26, 2021, Kansas City, MO)
I’ve been successful in my career goals because of the efforts that caring and capable mentors such as Dr. Katy Karlin and Dr. Greg Eiselein made on my behalf. They continue to guide other students who will also no doubt benefit from their wisdom. Both contributed to making me a strong graduate student and — ultimately — an effective student affairs professional.
The McNair Scholars Program is a federally funded TRIO program with the goal of helping talented, eligible undergraduates create competitive graduate applications and thrive in graduate school. As McNair’s Academic Development Coordinator, I supervise Scholars’ progress towards their bachelor’s degree and provide writing assistance on their graduate applications.
My job is student-centered, and one major aspect of this position is confidence-building.
Many of my students have anxieties about their writing. They feel as if it is not as good as their peers. Sometimes, they tell me that they’re afraid their lack of writing skills will make them seem stupid, or that they don’t have anything of value to say in terms of their written work. When I ask them what their writing strengths are, they typically say, “I don’t know, but here are all the things I do wrong.”
Katy Karlin taught me how to push myself as a writer and how to take risks. She taught us about the breakfast introduction: “Your character gets up in the morning, brushes his teeth, and eats cereal. Then he walks out the door. That moment when he walks out of the door? That’s when your story starts; however, you as the writer had to start earlier to be able to write his story.” This story — and others — gave me the confidence to start writing.
When Scholars present their first draft, we often end up axing their introduction paragraph. I say, “This is your breakfast introduction. It’s not wasted time because you had to write it to figure out what you’re thinking now. This second paragraph — that’s your real start.” Without Katy, I might not have realized how to convey that to my students as they draft their graduate application essays. I work to encourage them to do what is hard, just like she pushed me.
Greg Eiselein helped me learn compassion for my students. Cultural Studies was my first theory class and it showed: I was completely lost. I struggled to apply whatever theory we were currently examining to our group discussions; once, I used the artist Jingle Cats to argue that Theodor Adorno’s “On Popular Music” was flawed. I attended multiple office hours to get advice on my papers and midterm. Each time, Greg would thoughtfully address my questions and steer me to helpful literature. He was always happy to see me even when I’d ask for a last-minute meeting to better understand a point.
A few months ago, I finalized plans for our regional McNair student conference. I kept Greg’s kindness in mind when answering presenter emails and addressing staff concerns. A Scholar asked, “What if I cry?” I thought about telling her she’d be fine, but then I remembered Greg and instead said, “What happens if you cry?” She said she would continue crying and not stop; before I could answer, a different Scholar said, “Then we’ll all cry with you.”
My professors in the English Department taught me many things — how to use ecocriticism, how Huck Finn was an unreliable narrator, and how to support my arguments with research — but what stays with me the most are the intangible concepts I learned from Katy and Greg. I use these techniques regularly, reaching for them as often as I do the APA guide at the OWL at Purdue. They help my Scholars grow as writers and academics; they are what I employ when working on my Ph.D. coursework. My hope is that in a decade from now, my students will use these lessons on kindness and courage when they’re working with their own undergraduates.
— Maggie Borders (MA ’12)