Thank a Mentor

Well, I just realized that Thank a Mentor Day was last week on January 17th. Since I can’t exactly go back and write a post on that date, I will just post it today.

4180_1099963553210_4331864_nMy mentor was known for striking terror into the hearts of both undergraduate and graduate students. His primary area was research methods, which is a challenge for most students anyway. Throw in the fact that you HAD to pass his class in order to graduate, and most people didn’t take the class until their last semester, a lot of students had to stay longer than they anticipated.

Not wanting that fate to befall me, I took the class the first semester of my senior year. For what ever reason, it clicked for me. I became one of six my entire time as an undergraduate who made an “A” in the course. This led to me receiving a graduate assistantship in the department to help tutor his students. And thus, I became the minion for the man feared by all political science, criminal justice, sociology, and public administration students and grad students at Georgia College.

Professor Jan Mabie, PhD, well below the sarcastic exterior, was as big of a cutup and as great of a mentor as could ever be found.  He taught me the way of The Force, er, research methodology using not the modern advances of Stata, SPSS, any other software package. Instead, we used an old DOS based program he wrote.

Most students felt tortured to take him once. I had him twice in undergrad, then at least once a semester in grad school covering everything from basic and advanced methods to personnel management. Most people, him included, questioned my sanity when I asked him to be my thesis chair. In retrospect, I don’t think he even read anything from my thesis except the methods section.

He retired last year, but without a doubt, I can see his influence today in my teaching and research today. I have been to a conference and have to constantly remind myself that not everyone was taught methods, and to not let the “poor idiot” have it for leaving something off the slide.

Every fall, when the “minions of morons” descend upon campus, I will be reminded of him. Every time I watch a science show, I mentally start reciting the “Assumptions of the Western Analytic Tradition.” Whenever I look at a cross-tab, I will still call it a contingency table in my head. And whenever I start nerding out over data and a scatter plot, I will be grateful I was trained by one of the best, and quite possibly the most old-school, in the business.

When he got this look going over your data, you were in trouble. (This was at another faculty member's retirement party.)
When he got this look going over your data, you were in trouble. (This was at another faculty member’s retirement party.)
This was the two of us at the first MPA Program Dinner my first year of grad school.
This was the two of us at the first MPA Program Dinner my first year of grad school.

Dr. Mabie has a group on Facebook dedicated to him, titled “Mabie You Can Make It.” Barron Webster (MPA 2008) wrote “The Legend of Jan Mabie” for the page. It may not mean as much to the people who had not been through the program and classes, but here it is.

The kind words of Dr. Jan Mabie reverberate in students’ minds for years after their Quantitative final is done and the last OurStat disc has been removed from those ancient laptops. He began his illustrious career at Georgia College in 1894 when our dear alma mater was known simply as the Georgia State College for Women. His notable students include Flannery O’Connor, Michael Digby, Amici Buffington, Galileo, and John Milledge.

In fact, an old legend in Milledgeville tells the tale of a young Flannery O’Connor who aspired to be a statistician. One day, she’d had her fair share of confusion over covariation and PRE measures of association. She lost her marbles finding T-scores and Z-scores and F Tests… and she took to writing as a way of releasing her anger and stress. Out of pure frustration was born one of the finest Southern Gothic authors ever to strike a typewriter.

As for the rest of us, we now have the tendency to correct our friends when they tell us “Don’t become a statistic!” Because you’re never a statistic- you’re a datum. If you need to know if there is a correlation between sex and salary with respect to education level, we’ll be there. Want to know how much of a correlation there is between education level and poverty in any county in Georgia? Give us a call. We’ll even construct the operational definition.

So the next time you’re confused about where to find the nearest “mature analytical community,” sit on the edge of the table. Scratch your chin with your eyes fixed upward and your head cocked like dear Dr. Mabie does. Close one eye and rub the top of your head too. And be grateful you’re being taught by one of the sharpest, most respectable, and illustrious minds Georgia’s Public Liberal Arts University has ever seen- but please don’t mess up the laptops.

1 thought on “Thank a Mentor

  1. A very fine tribute to one who taught you so well… Lord have mercy on those students onto whom you now pass on his legacy.

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