Betty Archuleta and Julian Samora, Adams State Teachers College, 1940

Mentoring someone is a very subtle skill and a great responsibility. Much is talked about the need for mentoring, particularly young people and economically marginalized groups. But how does mentoring happen? Where is the skill taught? What is involved in the relationship between mentor and student? Both Dr. Samora and his wife, Betty, embraced the role of mentor with skill and enthusiasm. They opened their home and their hearts to students and their families. That extra encouragement was often the deciding factor of success or failure for that student. Both Samoras took their responsibility seriously. They got to know their students. The students knew they were not just numbers on a grant application. The couple shared meals with their students, listened to their departmental problems, and helped them find housing, daycare, and schools for their children. In short, Betty and Julian Samora built community by spending time with their community.

Julian Samora realized the importance of preparing the next generation of leaders, scholars, and community activists very early in his career. In the Fall of 1944, just two years out from his college graduation, Samora was appointed the associate director of the San Luis Institute, a branch of Adams State College in San Luis, Colorado. The institute was a collaboration between Samora and Adams State’s President Ira Richardson. Samora had noticed a high dropout rate among the GI’s who enrolled at Adams State. They had been to war and they were finding it difficult to attend classes with 18 year olds. The Institute served its purpose: the older students attended their first two years in San Luis and then transferred to Adams State to finish their remaining two years. Eventually the Institute evolved into a community college and trade school.

Samora began mentoring within his own family. Mose Trujillo, Samora’s brother-in-law, was one of those returning GIs. He credits Samora for encouraging everyone in the family to complete college. Samora’s students included his wife’s two sisters and their husbands. Being their teacher gave Samora the authority to insist they all finish school. In his extended family, the women all completed college and all the men did post-graduate work, quite a feat for that ethnic group in that time period.

Dr. Samora with Mexican American Graduate Studies seminar students, Notre Dame University, 1983-1984

Dr. Samora with Mexican American Graduate Studies seminar students, Notre Dame University, 1983-1984

Throughout his career, Julian Samora was aware of the need to formalize his efforts and mentor more students at the graduate level. He was always in contact with students as their teacher, but he was looking for a way to be more effective to a broader range of students.

In 1971, with a grant from the Ford Foundation, Samora inaugurated the Mexican American Graduate Studies Program. The program was later funded by the United States Office of Education. Fifty-seven students were accepted into the program during the fourteen years the program was operational, and most received advanced degrees. Students were supported in law, history, economics, sociology, government, and psychology.

Dr. Samora required that his students attend a weekly seminar as well as the classes in their own discipline. The community building that resulted from the weekly Mexican American seminar helped the students stay in school. They learned to argue their points, they learned to write, and they learned the ropes of graduate school. The fact of his near 90% retention rate speaks to the particular style of mentoring Dr. Samora provided his students. He also encouraged them to nurture each other and their communities.

Those students represent the next generation of Latino leaders and include scholars, researchers, policy makers, lawyers, a university president, an assistant provost, a federal court judge, a state legislator, authors, therapists, high school teachers and doctors. Dr. Samora effectively created a generation of Latinos prepared to assume leadership roles in their communities.

Julian Samora and Cesar Chavez, University of Notre Dame

Julian Samora and Cesar Chavez, University of Notre Dame

There are also undergraduate students and post-doctoral students who count themselves among the number Samora mentored. Those people went into their communities to be teachers, scholars, researchers, lawyers, activists, and writers. When Samora earned his Ph.D. in 1953, there were only 5 or 6 other Mexican Americans with Ph.D.s in the United States. Samora’s mentoring was purposeful in that he helped others reach their goals of advanced education. For their part, these Samoristas are making it possible for yet another generation of students to realize their educational goals and their numbers grow exponentially each year as they mentor others who are now mentoring yet another generation.

Julian Samora, inauguration ceremonies of the Julian Samora Research Institute, Michigan State University, 1985

Julian Samora, inauguration ceremonies of the Julian Samora Research Institute, Michigan State University, 1989