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Mentoring

This week’s message for first-year parents was written by Allison McWilliams (’95), director of the Mentoring Resource Center.

One of the hallmarks of the Wake Forest student experience has always been great mentoring. Alumni often will speak of a special faculty member, staff member, or even another student who took the time to demonstrate an interest in his or her growth and development when they were at Wake Forest. Unfortunately, students aren’t always aware of these relationships as they are happening, which means that they are missing out on a key opportunity for more intentional relationships with these mentors.

As part of the University’s strategic goal of increasing student engagement through mentoring, we have created the Mentoring Resource Center to help both students and their mentors to be more intentional about these relationships. We provide resources and training to faculty, staff, alumni, student advisors, resident advisors, and other student leaders on how to be effective mentors, skills and tools that mentors use, and how to lead a mentoring conversation. At the same time, we are seeking opportunities to train students on skills they should develop during a mentoring relationship and how to seek out mentors both on and off campus.

Not every student is going to find a mentor through a formal mentoring program, though several great programs do exist on campus. We encourage students (and really, this applies to everyone, not just students) to build their mentoring network. The time has come and gone for an individual to have just one mentor who is tasked with supporting all of that person’s needs. Instead, we encourage folks to seek out several mentors. For example, a student may find an older student who mentors him or her about fitting in and finding a social network. He or she also may find a staff member who mentors him or her through an internship search or a study abroad experience. And, he or she may find a faculty member who mentors him or her about professional aspirations and academic achievement. Each of these individuals is in that student’s mentoring network and each fulfills a unique role within that network.

Priscilla Claman described this network-building process in the Harvard Business Review as developing a personal board of directors. It is guidance that is just as useful to a first-year student as to a seasoned executive: seek out people who are different than you, people who are more experienced than you, people who know more than you do, and include them in your network.

How does a first-year student do this? It’s actually easier than many of them think, especially at a place like Wake Forest, which attracts people who want to participate in these kinds of meaningful, intentional relationships:

  • Think about the attributes you are looking for in potential mentors. What do you want them to know, to do, to have experienced? What type of personality are you looking for?
  • Identify individuals you already know who fulfill those needs. These can be faculty, staff, students, and “adult fans” from home including your parents.
  • Write out a goal statement.   Why do you want this person to be your mentor? What do you hope to achieve through the course of this relationship? How long do you think the relationship might last? This goal statement will be different for the different people in your network. Remember: each one is there to fulfill a specific need.
  • Go talk to them. The worst that they can do say is no! And if they do it will be because they simply do not have the time or they don’t feel that they are the best person to fulfill that role. Use the goal statement that you developed to frame this conversation. Practice with someone else (your roommate, your advisor, your parent) before you have the actual conversation so that you are comfortable.

As parents, you can talk to your students about building their mentoring networks. Help them practice those conversations; remember that a faculty or staff member can seem intimidating, especially to first-year students.

Each year we kick off the spring semester with the annual celebration of National Mentoring Month. This is, we feel, a great opportunity to remind ourselves of those important relationships in our lives that make such a difference in our Wake Forest community. We all have people who support us, challenge us, and push us to take risks and to live out our dreams. And, we can all serve in these ways for others. This is what National Mentoring Month is all about: shining a spotlight on those trusted and valued relationships.

This year, we are celebrating with the theme Mentoring Matters. Specifically, we are thinking about all of the ways that mentoring matters for personal development, professional development, career development, and leadership development. We have created fun calendars highlighting each of these themes with concrete action steps that have been shared with all of the first year students through their RAs. And through the Mentoring Resource Center website and blog we are going a bit more in-depth on each of these themes throughout the month of January, to provide additional guidance on how your students can find a mentor to help with each of these areas and suggested topics of conversations. Be sure to check there for more information as well as for other resources and tools to help your students get started.