VITAL Guest Bloggers: Mindy Capaldi, Melissa Desjarlais, Jon-Paul McCool, Nancy Scannell, Zsuzsanna Szaniszlo

During the past school year our group of Valpo faculty met to share resources and learn more about best practices in mentoring students.  We met approximately fortnightly during the fall 2018 and spring 2019 semesters.

Two books guided our discussions throughout the year: On Being a Mentor: A Guide for Higher Education Faculty (2nd ed.) by W. Brad Johnson and Successful STEM Mentoring Initiatives for Underrepresented Students by Becky Wai-Ling Packard.  We also had two guest speakers share their experience and expertise with us: Danielle Lavin-Loucks, an award-winning mentor, and Stacy Hoult-Saros, Coordinator of the Conrad Scholars’ Program.

While there are many types of mentoring relationships, our FLC team opted to focus on faculty-undergrad student mentoring relationships.  Why is mentoring important? Our team came up with a list of eight reasons why mentoring matters: (1) it provides students with a sense of belonging, (2) it is a campus resource for problem solving, (3) it builds interpersonal relationships, (4) it provides support for students making transitions, (5) it enhances academic success and retention, (6) it models relational skills, (7) it helps with networking and career development, (8) it promotes self-efficacy.

The FLC members plan to prepare a faculty-student handbook with resources and suggestions for mentoring undergraduate students. They also hope to form a repository for mentoring resources and on-campus activities related to mentoring.  Others will be welcome to add to this repository. The handbook and repository will be available on the VITAL Faculty Learning Community website (https://www.valpo.edu/faculty-learning-communities/), hopefully by the beginning of the fall 2019 semester.  An email will be sent when the information is available.

Here are some recommendations and suggestions based on the FLC’s conversations this year:

Advice to Mentors

  • Prepare open-ended (not yes/no) questions to make connections.
  • Listen and give mentees time to respond. Do not always be the one talking.
  • Follow up with mentee inquiries in a timely manner.
  • Provide confidential space; establish trust. Keep conversations confidential.
  • Take notes for ease of follow-up from earlier conversations.
  • Arrange regular meetings (approximately once or twice a month) and make sure some are at critical times in the semester (e.g., right before academic advising).
  • Prepare a topic to discuss but be flexible if the conversation goes in another direction.
  • During the first meeting, ask about logistical details (e.g., have you bought your books).
  • Greet students by name whenever you see them and have casual conversations in the hallway.
  • Be open, honest and interested.
  • Do not simply be a resource for information. Develop a relationship of care.
  • Refer students to the Counseling Center when necessary. Recognize that you are not a professional therapist.
  • Discuss action steps and accountability.
  • Realize that the mentee should not be a clone of you.
  • Check in with professional advisors about mentees’ academic progress.
  • Realize that not all mentor-mentee relationships will work well.

Advice to Mentees: What advice mentors should give their mentees:

  • Discuss expectations as a mentee/student.
  • Know that your mentor is there for you.
  • Ask questions.
  • Seek help.
  • Be open to guidance and sharing your interests.
  • Use campus resources: consider visiting the locations with your mentor.
  • Discuss possible career paths and ask about opportunities (academic year/summer internships/research/publishing/shadowing).
  • Know that it is ok to change disciplines.
  • Know that it is ok to change mentors or to have multiple mentors.

Advice to Departments:

  • Create a faculty-student mentoring program suitable to your unique discipline.
  • Be flexible and recognize that some mentor-mentee relationships develop organically.
  • Allow for changes in mentor-mentee pairings.
  • Make mentor reporting a regular item on your department meeting agendas.
  • Consider peer-mentoring.
  • Create a welcoming space where students can gather and faculty can visit with them.

Suggested Activities:

  • Plan professional development activities such as vocational discernment, self-advocacy.
  • Plan personal development activities such as learning how to practice mindfulness or self-care strategies.
  • Plan social activities with other mentors/mentees.
  • Schedule visits to campus resources such as the Writing Center, Career Center, Financial Aid Office, Health Center, Counseling Center.