The summer after my first year of graduate school, I took a trip to several East Coast cities. Having settled on a dissertation topic, I quickly realized there were few professors at my institution, the University of California at Berkeley, who shared my research subject. Hoping to find some mentors with similar scholarly interests, I packed my bags and headed east. I scoured cities from New York to D.C. with a brief stop in Philly in hopes of finding my intellectual Yoda.
While that 1997 road trip resulted in several important meetings, each of which yielded guidance and support, my nerdy adventure was not the most effective way to find a mentor. It was weighted toward people working at East Coast universities, those who were available during the summer, and those who were celebrities worthy of national attention. As a boy, I had a shoebox full of baseball cards, and I brought that same level of fandom into the academic world. If there had been the equivalent of baseball cards for academics, I would have had a shoebox full of Cornel Wests and Robin Kelleys. Instead, motivated by meeting the superstars of ethnic and African-American studies, I collected their business cards. The quest for mentors was an expensive undertaking, and so, not surprisingly, it was the only trip I took in my search of the holy grail of mentors. <Read more.>