University of Denver, Josef Korbel School of International Studies

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Graduate School Mentorship at the Josef Korbel School

Jack Donnelly

Jack Donnelly
Andrew Mellon Professor and PhD Program Co-Director
Josef Korbel School of International Studies
University of Denver


The Josef Korbel School student body, composed of approximately 450 students, join us from a wide array of academic and professional backgrounds. Regardless of the program students pursue, faculty-student mentorships are essential in selecting coursework, identifying internships and connecting students with resources that will help them explore and pursue their career paths.

How would you describe your mentorship role with your students?

My job as a mentor is to help students figure out what they want to do, and how to do it. I try to get a sense of where students stand, react to their questions and choices, and point them in a variety of directions. Whether a student comes to us "knowing" what they want to do or have only the vaguest ideas about their future, I encourage them to explore their intuitions in selecting courses, internships, extracurricular activities and community service.

How do you advise students who find themselves presented with a variety of academic directions?

I advise students to take the opportunity to investigate topics that for some reason just seem interesting, even - perhaps especially - if they didn't fit neatly into their formal academic program. I value curiosity and the willingness to learn. And I promote openness to resources and opportunities that are available on our campus and in our community that a student might never have thought about before.

A specific example of this is when I served as the thesis advisor for Shelley Siman, a 2009 MA International Human Rights student. Shelley applied to the Josef Korbel School because at the time it was the only graduate school in the United States that had an MA degree in International Human Rights. She had years of relevant work experience but wanted to gain the theoretical background. With her interest in human rights and rights of the disabled, I was a good fit as her advisor.

I was able to connect her with a contact from the Landmine Survivor Network (LSN) who helped her to attend the Eighth Session of the drafting of the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. This provided a great opportunity for her to meet some of the most important scholars and activists in the disability field, see how non-governmental organizations influenced the drafting of the Convention, and understand the process through which states came to agreement on the draft.

What happened with the thesis?

It changed completely. When Shelley finished her coursework she began working on criminal justice policy in Denver. The disability thesis thus increasingly seemed to be less than ideal. So we went back to the drawing board. In the end, she did a thesis that she was able to take directly back to her job and apply to reforming Denver's policy. Academic and professional work fused into a chance to be able to try to alter policy from within. According to Shelley, "I'm now influencing policies and practices in a major metropolitan area that give people a second chance. I couldn't have done that without my program at the Josef Korbel School."


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Josef Korbel School of International Studies
University of Denver
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