Ohio State faculty member Nicole Kraft speaks to a group of journalism students during a spring semester class session.
When Nicole Kraft speaks at freshmen orientations, one of her messages is students should find mentorship opportunities with faculty members who resonate with them, someone they can connect with beyond the classroom.
Devin Smith listened closely.
“(Kraft) was speaking at my freshman orientation about her background in sports journalism, all the connections she had, people I would love to meet,” Smith said. “I was like, this is what I want to do. I was in awe.”
That day, Smith switched his major to journalism. A year later, this past fall, he took Writing and Editing Media, his first class with Kraft.
“The class was so interactive and she was so passionate about teaching,” Smith said. “She also really cared about us and whatever challenges we were facing.
“To know you have a professor who will get you where you need to go and who cares about you is important. Especially during a pandemic, the lines of communication have to be stronger than ever.”
While Kraft exceeded Smith’s expectations, their mentoring relationship took shape because he took the initiative. Smith was a regular at Kraft’s office hours through Zoom. They also regularly discussed top news of the day through a class Slack channel and Twitter.
It was exactly how a good mentoring relationship develops.
“You can’t force a mentoring relationship; it’s an organic process,” Kraft said. “(Working with Devin) has been a special relationship for me, watching him develop. He threw himself full bore into developing as a writer.”
Toward the end of the semester, Smith had his first article published in The Lantern. It was a story he first developed through Kraft’s class, exploring how Ohio State’s Black community was adapting to life without Hale Hall, which was converted to a classroom building as part of the university’s COVID-19 protocols.
“It was the feature article for The Lantern that day and for the week — and that was so crazy to me,” Smith said. “The story idea came because I remember thinking about what I would be doing right now if we weren’t in the pandemic. I’d probably be in Hale Hall.
“I wanted to highlight not only what Hale Hall was but how strong the Black community is at Ohio State. Hale Hall was like going home almost. But without it, the Black community stayed connected.”
After his research and interviewing, Smith turned to Kraft as a writing coach, sending her draft after draft before turning it into The Lantern.
“It was such a meaningful moment,” Kraft said. “We saw this whole experience come together. I watched him evolve in 12 weeks as a terrific writer and someone who has extraordinary potential to contribute in whatever field he chooses because of how he dedicates himself.”
At the end of the semester, Smith changed his major from journalism to a personalized major called integrated social studies. It will help him eventually get his master’s degree in education in one year, allowing him to either teach or go into sports journalism.
It wasn’t an easy decision. Before he made it, Smith talked to Kraft. “She was so supportive and helped me through the decision,” he said. “She’s such a good person to have in your corner.”
But that’s not just because of her connections or writing help, Smith said. In the fall semester alone, she drove students to the election polls, got them connected to internships and even helped quarantined students stay in contact with whomever they needed at the university.
“We need to be the people students can reach out to beyond the class experience,” Kraft said. “One of the last things I always say to every class is, when you need us, we will be there. That’s why you came to Ohio State. We are a family you become part of when you join. This is the place you should come back to for support navigating the waters because that’s what we do best.”