After being recognized by U.S. Representative Dutch Ruppersberger III of Maryland with the 2013 Dream Keeper Award for her 30-year career and contributions to education in the state, Judith L. Fitzgerald, JD, summed up her accomplishment in one word: mentorship. Whether teaching in the School of Public Policy and Administration, co-founding and leading the nonprofit organization ReInvent for at-risk youth, or volunteering with advisory boards, mentorship is at the forefront of her work. Here, she explains why she strives to be a valued mentor.
WHAT IS THE VALUE OF MENTORING? It’s a reality check. When I was interested in law school, no one told me what was ahead, what I could look forward to, or what the opportunities were. While I was a lecturer in the criminal justice program at Bowie State University in Maryland, I made a point to be a pre-law advisor. I’d ask new students why they wanted to go to law school. Most said because they wanted to make money. I’d ask if that was the only reason and remind them of the many unemployed attorneys. Ultimately, I’d ask them to re-evaluate why they were passionate about the profession. It’s very rewarding to reach back and pull folks forward.
IN 2007, YOU CO-FOUNDED THE MUSIC AND ARTS PROGRAM REINVENT. WHY? I’ve always been a fan and a supporter of the arts. I’ve also researched—and firmly believe—that the arts are a critical component of the educational system, particularly secondary education. We serve about 75 kids each summer. They come from homes in or around high-crime areas where there is drug use. ReInvent is a respite for them. In addition to learning dance or how to play music, children take self-esteem and etiquette workshops. Our students become attached to our volunteer teachers who come from high-profile organizations like the Dance Theatre of Harlem. It is so rewarding to see their metamorphoses from the time they begin the program to the end.
WHAT ARE THE REWARDS OF TEACHING? My son Gary is autistic, so I need flexibility. ReInvent was an after-school program, but now it only operates in the summer. I decided to stop practicing law and focus on academia. Walden provides me not only the flexible schedule I need but also the opportunity to mentor a diverse student body. I strive to interact with and mentor students in each course. Just as teaching at Walden keeps me fresh and relevant, my mentoring through ReInvent, Bowie State, and other organizations provides me with experiences that help me enrich the lives of my students.