Public Policy Involvement

Vol. 20, No. 1
ISSN: 1546-2676

Dorothy Mitstifer (Posthumous)

Guest Editor:
Holly Roseski

Publication date:
Compiled 2022

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Kappa Omicron Nu FORUM, Vol. 20, No. 1. 
1546-2676. Editor: Holly Roseski. Official publication of Kappa Omicron Nu National Honor Society. Member, Association of College Honor Societies. Copyright © 2022. Kappa Omicron Nu FORUM is a refereed, semi-annual publication serving the profession of family and consumer sciences. The opinions expressed by the authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of the society. Further information: Kappa Omicron Nu, PO Box 798, Okemos, MI 48805-0798. Telephone: (727) 940-2658 ext. 2003

Interested in submitting an article to KON FORUM? Papers are now being accepted for review.


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Kappa Omicron Nu


Mentoring Students in Cross-Specialization Teams

Dorothy I. Mitstifer

Dr. Mitstifer is Executive Director of Kappa Omicron Nu Honor Society.

Contact: [email protected]


Kappa Omicron Nu’s experience with cross-specialization research began with the Board’s observation that the rhetoric regarding the integrative, holistic philosophic nature of the field was not backed by action. In 1992 a task force designed the present Kappa Omicron Nu research agenda, which states that “the research approach shall be integrative in nature and shall make connections across specializations to pursue problems or questions.” During the years since 1992, Kappa Omicron Nu has awarded one or two research grants annually.

A second experience was the grant from the Kellogg Foundation for cross-specialization and integrative research to honor Beatrice Paolucci and to continue her work and philosophy. Kappa Omicron Nu awarded grants to three undergraduate and six graduate students.

Both of these initiatives have shown me that there is a lack of mentoring for cross-specialization research. In the vast majority of cases I found that I was the mentor from afar. I was the one that helped the researchers understand how to expand their initial research plans to meet the criteria for the grant, to broaden their understanding of the complexity of human problems, and to build their enthusiasm for working with colleagues in other specializations within or beyond family and consumer sciences. They always found interest once they made contacts, and they always understood that they had improved their research projects. Although I don’t have evidence that their research agendas will continue along these lines, they have had good experiences.

I read a quote recently from Rita Colwell of the National Science Foundation that justifies the subject of this paper: “Interdisciplinary connections are absolutely fundamental. They are synapses in this new capability to look over and beyond the horizon. Interfaces of the sciences are where the excitement will be the most intense.” My position is that either we embrace cross-specialization research or we quit talking about family and consumer sciences as an integrative field. We can’t continue with a “rhetoric only” approach without compromising the legitimacy and relevance of the field. It seems to me that cross-specialization research is focused on training problem solvers through a research-centered learning community. And that is an admirable goal.

For the remainder of this paper I will propose (a) a framework for a cross-specialization research agenda, (b) skill sets for mentoring, and (c) anticipated impacts.

Framework for cross-specialization research agenda

It appears to me that mentoring students in cross-specialization teams requires more than grantor support—it requires an institutional commitment, a structure, and development opportunities. Thus I have attempted to outline the necessities for such an approach. The model requires:

1.       Description of the cross-specialization initiative – the source and breadth of commitment; the definition of mission, goals, and themes

2.       Structure – a proposal process; oversight, steering, and review committees to provide energy necessary to mobilize and organize the intellectual talents; a mentoring system; staff services; a Web site that describes the structure and includes a database of mentors and expertise; workshops for faculty development and research skill development;

3.       Funding opportunities – the identification of local, regional, and national grants for beginning and seasoned researchers

4.       Collaborative connections – a compilation of community and institutional support systems and partnerships

5.       Successes – a publicity campaign about and kudos for successful projects, which also give incentives and ideas for other research

I’m convinced that commitment from “on high” is very important, but we shouldn’t rule out the grass-roots approach. Success at the grass-roots level can lead to commitment from administrators and the institution-at-large. My Internet research indicates that the successes are coming from institutions that have made a grand commitment to introducing research at the undergraduate level; to creating inquiry-based courses to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills; to establishing vertically integrated teams of undergraduate and graduate students and faculty; to addressing critical social issues through research, teaching, and outreach; and to seeking national and international leadership in interdisciplinary research. I found this commitment in the U.S. in small institutions as well as large land-grant and research institutions and in foreign institutions. I also found some sophisticated means of developing the vision for interdisciplinary research.

Mentoring can take two avenues: the traditional approach assigned by the institution or the self-managed approached chosen by the learner. Kappa Omicron Nu has promoted the latter by its Mentoring: The Human Touch module and Self-Managed Mentoring online course. Both approaches have relevance for mentoring cross-specialization teams. The development of vertically integrated research teams provides a natural mentoring hierarchy.

Skill sets for mentoring

The following lists of skill sets are offered in the interest of a succinct overview.

Mentoring practices (VCU, 2002) for research teams include the following actions:

·         Encourage and demonstrate confidence in mentee.

·         Recognize mentee as an individual with a private life and value the mentee as a person.

·         Ensure a positive and supportive professional environment for mentee.

·         Express own insufficient knowledge when appropriate.

·         Be liberal with feedback.

·         Encourage independent behavior, but be willing to invest ample time in mentee.

·         Provide accessibility and exposure for mentee within own professional circle both within and outside of the immediate university circle.

·         Illustrate the methodology and importance of “networking.”

·         Allow mentee to assist with projects, papers, and research whenever possible and be generous with credit.

Characteristics of mentees (VCU, 2002) that contribute to a successful mentoring relationship include:

·         Eagerness to learn and a respect and desire to learn from mentor.

·         Seriousness in the relationship.

·         Taking the initiative in the relationship.

·         Flexibility and an understanding of the mentor’s schedule.

·         Promptness for all appointments and work products.

·         Feedback, even if nothing is requested.

·         Interest—ask questions; seek information beyond what is required.

·         Respect—acknowledge the time and effort of the mentor on mentee’s behalf; don’t forget professional protocol.


Essential areas in which mentees need to be socialized include:

·         Adopting academic values,

·         Managing personal and academic life, and

·         Establishing and maintaining a productive network of colleagues.

The five dysfunctions of teams (Lencioni, 2003) indicate the elements of successful teamwork:

·         Absence of trust

·         Fear of conflict

·         Lack of commitment

·         Avoidance of accountability

·         Inattention to results

These dysfunctions point to the fact that functional teams require establishment of trust, healthy conflict, unwavering commitment, unapologetic accountability, and a collective orientation to results. The point is that teamwork is worth the trouble, but the rewards are not without hard work.

Anticipated impacts

A successful cross-specialization research program has the opportunity to become a model of choice for training problem-solving professionals for other departments and colleges within the university or other universities. “Because of their broad-based training and well-developed ‘soft skills’ [such as leadership, collaboration, and teamwork], those who have successfully completed such a program will be attractive to both industry and academe and will be prepared to cope with inevitable change” (Gerig, 1999). Partnering between industry and academe will be an outcome of a well functioning program, and sponsored research is likely to expand. Then, too, the natural mentoring hierarchy of a cross-specialization team facilitates the mentoring function. The most important impact is likely to be an enlivened unit that provides a venue for (a) identifying research that is socially relevant and responsive to the current and future needs of a pluralistic society, (b) discussing such issues as problem formulation, (c) presenting work in progress, (d) forging cross-sector partnerships that deliver social sector results, and (e) developing the next generation of scholars.

It is my hope that the case for mentoring students in cross-specialization research teams will find its way into the dialogue within units. This action will most assuredly take courageous leadership. I will adapt an analogy from the late John Gardner, who when discussing difficult tasks said, “Behind all the current buzz . . . is a discipline. . . . If it contained a silicon chip we’d all be excited.” Well, there is no chip in cross-specialization research, but there most certainly is a discipline. Our job is to learn to apply it.


Gerig, T. (1999). Training problem solvers: A research centered learning community. Raleigh: NCSU Department of Statistics NSF/VIGRE Program.

Lencioni, P. M. (2003). The trouble with teamwork. Leader to Leader, 29(Summer), pp. 35-40.

VCU College of Medicine. (2002). Faculty mentoring guide. Richmond: Virginia Commonwealth University.


Note: Unauthorized citation of this paper is discouraged. Instead please contact the author prior to citing the work.





Kappa Omicron Nu Forum Volume 20 No. 1

Consumer Moral Ambiguity: The Gray Area of Consumption

Sue L. T. McGregor

Peer Review: A Filter for Quality

Dorothy I. Mitstifer

Mentoring Students in Cross-Specialization Teams

Dorothy I. Mitstifer

Consumerism as a Source of Structural Violence

Sue L. T. McGregor

Consumer Entitlement, Narcissism, and Immoral Consumption

Sue L. T. McGregor

A Satire: Confessions of Recovering Home Economists

Sue L. T. McGregor

The Nature of Transdisciplinary Research and Practice

Sue L. T. McGregor

Reflection Matters: Connecting Theory to Practice in Service Learning Courses

Mary E. Henry

What's It All About—Learning in the Human Sciences

Dorothy I. Mitstifer

Leadership Responsibilities of Professionals

Dorothy I. Mitstifer

Categories of Sexual Harassment: A Preliminary Analysis

Catherine Amoroso Leslie, William E. Hauck

Knowledge Management / Keeping the Edge

Dorothy I. Mitstifer 

Super Kids Program Evaluation Plan

Nina L. Roofe

The Enigmatic Profession

Nina L. Roofe

The Wilberian Integral Approach

Sue L. T. McGregor