A testament to mentorship: Kenzie Cameron and Frank Boster

Alumna Kenzie Cameron (M.A. ’96 Communication, Ph.D. ’98 Communication) and her husband, Steve Dickerson, created The Franklin J. and Linda J. Boster Endowment for Graduate Education in Communication to acknowledge the mentoring, support, honesty, high standards and friendship that the Bosters have provided to countless MSU students.


Everyone knows Frank Boster

When Kenzie Cameron first met Frank Boster as a first-year grad student in 1994, she was, in a word: terrified.

“Everyone knew who Frank Boster was,” Cameron recalled. “He's such an accomplished scholar. As a first-year graduate student, I think I had built him up in my mind — he knew everything, and I was so focused on ‘doing things right.’”

Franklin J. Boster, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Communication, is internationally recognized as an expert among scholars and researchers of social influence and group dynamics. He received his Ph.D. in Communication from Michigan State University in 1977 and continued to have an impressive, decades-long career teaching and engaging in research. At the time of their meeting, Boster had already received the Outstanding Achievement Award for Teaching (Arizona State University, College of Public Programs, 1981) and the Charles H. Woolbert Award for Scholarship of Exceptional Originality and Influence (National Communication Association, 1989). To put it simply, Boster knew his stuff.

“He’s very to-the-point. Direct. If he asks you to do something, he expects you to do it — and he expects you to let him know if you can’t do it, or if you’re having trouble. But of course, as a new graduate student, a lot of times you don’t want to admit, this is really hard.”

Cameron would later ask Boster to become her primary faculty advisor for her dissertation, a conversation she was deeply nervous to have. Boster agreed with an unceremonious one-word answer. Today, he is a dear friend.

bride recites her vows at wedding ceremony

Photo: Frank Boster officiates the wedding ceremony of Kenzie Cameron and Steve Dickerson.

Exceptional mentorship

Cameron describes her experience as one of Boster’s mentees as “amazing” — that it wasn’t just one particular thing he did, or piece of advice he gave, that made an impact on her forever. It was the whole package, starting with how he set expectations for his graduate students.

“He had high expectations of all of us, but he was always there to help us, too,” said Cameron. “He would set high expectations, but he wouldn't say, ‘Go out there and do it on your own.’ He would say, ‘Alright, what do we need to do to get there?’”

To this day, Cameron keeps a photo in her office of the group of graduate students Frank Boster mentored in 1998.

“That’s how many students he was mentoring,” she said, indicating the eight students gathered in Boster’s study. “And when he was with you, you were what mattered, and he was focused on you.”

Frank Boster surrounded by eight graduate student mentees in 1998

Photo: From left to right — M. Sean Limon, Betty LaFrance, Craig Hullett, Shelly Campo, Frank Boster, Cynthia Zuckerman, Maria Lapinski, Monique Mitchell, Kenzie Cameron.

Cameron has since nominated Boster for several awards, including the ComArtSci Faculty Impact Award. She and a colleague reached out to others to join them in submitting letters of support on Boster’s behalf. Within 24 hours, no less than 11 individuals had eagerly committed; by the time the nomination was submitted, 28 individuals had penned letters attesting to Boster’s excellence and impact. Only two letters were required.

When Boster received the Faculty Impact Award in 2009, Cameron recalls him graciously speaking of his own mentors, current and former students, his colleagues — and, of course, his wife Linda. For her, Frank and Linda were a package deal.

“Linda was also always there,” Cameron said. “In many ways she mentored us, too. And she didn’t blink when grad students showed up at their home — sometimes rather late at night — on the contrary, she often fed us!”

Both Cameron and her husband, Steve Dickerson, acknowledge that having up to eight graduate students working on dissertations in one’s home, at all hours of the day and night, would have had its challenges.

“They’re both some of the most generous people I’ve ever known in terms of giving of themselves, of their time, to help a friend or even a stranger,” Dickerson said. “I’m amazed at some of the lengths they’ve gone to help other people. It really is impressive.”

Paying it forward

Kenzie Cameron is now a Professor of Medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. Over the years, she has dedicated herself to providing the same type of support she received at MSU.

“My greatest passion in my job is mentoring,” Cameron said. “I have a responsibility to pay it forward because I received such great mentoring and I was incredibly lucky to be in that position — to be valued as a student, as a colleague. It is a big reason why I want to do for others what was done for me, because I would not be where I am today without Frank Boster.”

As a graduate student at Michigan State, Cameron was also able to attend many academic conferences with the support of the Gerald R. Miller Communication Enrichment Fund. It is in these environments that key introductions are made, and a new academic’s professional network grows. Cameron, and others she knew, would not have been able to attend conferences and present their papers without such funding.

Recognizing this need, Cameron knew she could help even more graduate students by giving them the same opportunity.

“I wanted to be able to pay that forward because by going to those conferences I started networking with people outside of Michigan State,” said Cameron. “Frank, again, was there — acting not just as the mentor but as the connector — and would introduce me to people.”

By the time Cameron was ready to enter the job market, she had met a lot of her peers and future colleagues. “There’s a lot of value when you’re interviewing with someone and it’s not the first time they’ve seen your face or heard your name, and being at those conferences is what lets that happen,” she said.

As the funds from the GR Miller scholarship allowed Cameron to build her own connections and academic reputation, she and her husband have created a new endowment for graduate students in the Department of Communication for the same purpose … and they named it after Frank and Linda Boster.

“Linda is a big part of who Frank is, and I can’t picture them not together,” said Dickerson. “I know how much she has done to support him through all the years they’ve been together, and it just seems right to acknowledge her contributions to his success. On a personal level, she’s been just very warm and welcoming to me.”

“The crucial thing — and I think Frank will be the first person to tell you — he cannot do what he does without Linda by his side, and he wouldn’t want to,” Cameron said. “I got the mentoring I did from Frank, and from Linda, and from seeing their relationship — and it’s because they made it work in their relationship that I could get that mentoring.”

 

— Jessica Mussell

 

Department of Communication Graduate Programs

Make a gift to the Boster Endowment fund

For more information on how to create your own endowment, contact ComArtSci Senior Director of Development Meredith Jagutis at jagutism@msu.edu or 517-432-5672.