Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Mentoring has been a concept I've been thinking about a lot lately, mostly in the context of my work with Carleton University's Women in Science and Engineering group. We are hoping to implement some kind of mentoring program either this semester or in time for the beginning of the next school year. While funding and support from our Deans is not a problem, we haven't quite nailed down how exactly to run such a program.

The main issue to me is that we want to get it right the first time. If we start a program that pairs faculty or professionals with undergrads and high school students, but don't design it in such a way that mentoring relationships don't fizzle out, the original participants aren't likely to try again in future attempts.

With this in mind, the biggest mistake we could make would be to "just create an online form or forum where mentors and mentees could connect." Unfortunately, left to their own devices, most people would find other priorities to fill their time, and that online mentoring site they signed up at last month can slowly slip from their minds until it's completely out of the picture. And that's just the people who actually took the iniative to register in the first place - surely a minority.

That's not to say that an online mentoring site can't be successful. Alberta's CyberMentor seems to be doing well. But as a relatively small student-run group (we only have five executive members and a huge program to run, after all), CU-WISE cannot set up such an elaborate online presence.

I also don't want to suggest that an online component of a mentoring program wouldn't be valuable. Of course, the more ways to communicate, the better.

The main point here is that we need something more. Incentive to participate. Physical meeting opportunities. Support on how to get the most out of the mentor/mentee relationship. A reason to care. This is where I'm still somewhat at a loss. What is the best way to accomplish all this?

If you've had success with mentoring programs in the past, or heard of some great ideas, I'd really love to hear about it in the comments.


Collin said...

good for you for starting up a program like that! re: "get it right the first time" -- if you have a few committed mentors (e.g., if they promise to do it 3x as you [fine-]tune the process), that might ease some of the pressure.

the mentornet folks have a pretty good program for e-mentoring; they ping mentor [and I assume protege -- they use that word rather than "mentee"] to suggest discussion topics; reassure them that silence on the part of the other might just mean they're swamped; encourage them to just send something to stay in touch regardless; offer to connect 'em with somebody else if this one just isn't working.

especially this last implies human maintenance is required; it's not just a crontab and a pile o'textfiles.

Gail Carmichael said...

Thanks for the comments Collin, very useful. So you find that the mentornet program works well? I think I've heard of it, but if so, the reason I have is that a friend signed up and never found a mentor after many months. That might be an isolated case, but this is the kind of situation I'm afraid of. I do like the human touch you describe - I think that's important. I guess since this will be run in one geographical area, we have the ability to bring that human touch a step further.

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