Centering Mentoring in the Classroom: CSUN Professor Kelan Koning

  • Kelan Koning. Photo by Rogelio Garcia.

College can be a difficult transition and many students feel unprepared for the long journey ahead of them. Students from traditionally underserved groups, including those with disabilities, may find the transition to university an overwhelming process.

Positive support and guidance from mentors can make all the difference for students who may be struggling.

CSUN lecturer and alumnae, Kelan Koning ’07 (English) believes in valuing the overall well-being of students. So, in addition to teaching and working in the classroom, she has devoted significant amounts of time to mentoring. As an individual with a disability, Koning felt particularly drawn to helping others like her.

“Mentoring has always been a very, very important part of my practice. That’s why I never left CSUN after I came here because I just loved it so much” said Koning. “I love helping people who have gone through challenges of various kinds.”

Koning’s teaching career started while she worked in the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) Residential Bridge program, as an academic mentor. There, she helped students who had not met the requirements for admission to the university, but had high potential to succeed.

She was able to use her skills gained from being a Bridge mentor, to support students in the Chicana/o Studies Writing Center, where she worked as a tutor coordinator. While Koning worked towards her teaching credential and master’s degree in English, she continued to mentor students through her work in EOP Admissions and began teaching as a Teaching Associate through CSUN’s TA Program. After earning her master’s in English, Koning began teaching in CSUN’s English department where she currently teaches first-year writing courses.  She makes sure to make mentoring central to her work with students.

This work with students earned Koning a nomination by the National Disability Mentoring Coalition for the 2021 Susan M. Daniels Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame.

The Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame was created in 2015 to recognize the outstanding impact that mentors have in the lives of youth and adults with disabilities. It was named for Susan M. Daniels, a former deputy commissioner for disability and income security programs at the Social Security Administration, who helped individuals with disabilities through her policy work, teaching and mentoring.

Koning cited her own mentors as a source of inspiration to continue her work. She said their transparency regarding their disabilities helped her to recognize her own. She shared more with CSUN Today about receiving the honor and her passion for mentoring and educating.

Q: How long have you worked for CSUN?

A: I came to the campus in 1997. So I started soon after the earthquake, and I came into campus as a graduate student– going into a credential program. That’s where I thought that I would go with my career.

Q: Who are the students that come to you? How many students (or faculty) do you mentor?

A: [In regards to mentoring,] I just fold people in. It’s just something that happens organically. So I can’t really quantify it exactly, but I have mentees that are in their doctorate programs and then I have students that just started. I mentor faculty as well, and I don’t think of it as one way either. I learned so much from them and I think it is reciprocal and it’s about creating that community. This is something that I try to foster with my students.”

As someone who has what many would consider to be a mental disability, I have a lot of sensitivity to students who also might be going through trauma, {dealing with mental illness}, or who might be neurodiverse. I have walked a lot of students to the Disability Resource Center and the University Counseling Services. I’ve had many students who go through quite of bit of time on campus and do not share that they need accommodations.

Q: What is the advice that is most asked for most often from your mentees? Do you have any advice to students on campus seeking mentorship?

A: I think one of the big ones that students ask me at the beginning of class is, “How did you decide that you wanted to be a teacher? What was it that led you to figure that out and not just be a teacher, but how did you decide what you wanted to do with your life?

Students seeking mentorship are looking for a sense of belonging, care, authenticity, and someone who believes in their potential.

My advice to students seeking mentoring is to see the potential in every interaction. To be open to support and to see that if we imagine mentoring to be the “big moments,” we might miss out on all of the small mentoring that might be happening every day.  I would also suggest that they begin to recognize the ways in which they mentor others and to keep doing it. I think they will be surprised at what an impact they are already having!

If you are looking for mentoring on campus, I recommend the SSSP program, our identity centers such as the Dream Center, Veterans Center, Pride Center, Women’s Research & Resource Center, the Chicano House, Black House, and Glenn Omatsu House.”

Q: What does receiving an honor from the Disability Hall of Fame mean to you?

A: It’s really overwhelming, I think, being someone who is a champion of students with disabilities and reshaping how that looks in academia. How does that look on a college campus? How does that function? And what spaces do we need to make to make those spaces more equitable for everyone?

Thinking about the honor of it, I think that it means that the work isn’t done. It’s something that I really was so, so grateful for, but I do feel that it provides an opening and maybe amplifies what it means to mentor and support. It also just continues to remind me how much is needed, and how I might be able to support others in becoming that kind of mentor. Also to continue to do better, because I don’t think that educators ever really feel like we’re done.”

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