Training and Retaining Mentors
The keys to retaining mentors are pre-service training and ongoing support throughout the experience. The training component ensures that mentors come to the experience fully aware of what to expect. They need to understand the program’s goals and how vital their participation is to meeting those goals. Ideally, you will infuse the training workshop with the same sense of fun that you hope mentors will bring to their sessions with students. Make it as interactive as possible and include snacks.
Your initial mentor training workshop should cover:
- Your mentoring program’s goals
- Myths about girls/women in science, math and technology
- Mentors’ roles and responsibilities
- Program policies (e.g., confidentiality and liability information)
- Characteristics of the students involved in the program
- Program logistics (i.e., location, time, materials provided, etc.)
Mentors’ Roles and Responsibilities
An important part of the workshop is for the mentor and mentee to understand the expectations that come with the role. As a mentor, you have entered into an agreement to serve as a mentor for a student. While you may have children or younger brothers or sisters of a similar age, refrain from thinking of this person in that context. Instead, consider her or him as a future faculty member or business professional with whom you may work. Below are some guidelines for the mentoring relationship.
- Provide opportunities for your mentee to explore career and life choices
- Provide and promote support networks for your mentee both in the college and in the community
- Assist your mentee in cultivating skills for living and working with people of diverse backgrounds and opinions
- Promote the self-esteem and confidence of your mentee
- Empower your mentee as a leader, professional, and engaged citizen
- Maintain focus on skill development
- Be available to your mentee
- Initiate contact with your mentee to develop the relationship
- Listen with an open mind
- Provide emotional support when needed
- Communicate regularly, even if just to say “hi”
- Share information on your own successes and failures, if appropriate
- Give and receive feedback, as needed
- Create a spirit of mutual learning, trust, and respect
- Lead by example
- Foster a deeper understanding of women’s and/or minorities’ diverse roles and contributions to society
- Foster strategies to address obstacles that women and/or minorities have faced and are facing.1
Dos and Don’ts of Mentoring
- Have an open mind; don’t discount, dismiss, or minimize
- Provide constructive criticism; don’t patronize or make light of a perceived obstacle or place undue guilt on the mentee
- Provide support, but don’t become a “crutch” for the mentee
- Maintain personal and professional boundaries, but don’t be distant or unapproachable.2
During your training sessions, consider alternating the delivery of dry information with learning activities that encourage mentors to practice skills they will need when working with students and to share their ideas and experiences with one another. Some possibilities:
- Sharing their motivations for being a mentor (e.g., giving back to their community and/or profession; encouraging young women to believe in themselves; helping girls explore career possibilities; feeling of satisfaction that comes from volunteering)
- Brainstorming ideas for activities (i.e., exploring emerging technologies, enlisting the help of business/industry, recruiting faculty to share successful activities or develop new ones)
- Practicing active listening skills in pairs
- Role-playing a variety of situations (e.g. “What to do if…”)
Role-Playing Activity to Use for Training
During the training, you may want to practice reacting to situations that might arise. At your first mentor-mentee meeting, you might divide them into two separate groups and discuss potential challenges that may arise and how to deal with them. The groups may even come up with a few ideas of their own.
Situations for Mentors
- Your mentee confides in you about some personal problems. At first you are flattered and offer some suggestions, but then the personal problems seem to become the only focus of your conversations. How do you steer the student into other academic and professional development areas of conversation?
- Your mentee spends too much time gossiping about others. What might be a strategy for guiding this student?
- Your mentee is not returning your calls or replying to your e-mails. What should you do?
- Your mentee is struggling academically and is considering changing majors or perhaps dropping out of school and getting a job. How would you handle this?
Situations for Mentees
- Your mentor is not returning your calls or replying to your e-mails. What should you do?
- Your mentor seems to be offering a lot of advice but not really listening to your concerns. What do you do?
- Your mentor seems distracted when you are talking and you’re not sure she heard everything you said. What do you do?
- Your mentor has invited you to lunch, and you accepted. But now a major report is looming and it is going to take all your time to get an A. What do you do?3
One question that comes up often during training is “What do I talk about?” This is especially true if the mentor and participating student are new to formal mentoring. Here are a few suggestions that will provide conversation openers for both of them:
- What should I do if I need tutoring within my major?
- What are some of the career opportunities within this field?
- Are there certain classes that should be taken together and some that should not be taken together?
- What types of research are being done in this field? How can I get research experience at a university?
- Are there any leadership opportunities within the department? If yes, who is the contact person?
- What is it like being a professor versus working in the corporate world?
- What are the advantages to advancing academically and getting a Ph.D.?
- What do companies look for in prospective employees beyond the traditional qualifications of grades and experience? What are some important tricks for “acing” the interview?
- When I start to look for jobs, what are some helpful hints to make my résumé stand out if my experience in the field is minimal?
- My knowledge of technology is more up-to-date than my superiors. Is there a good way to highlight my knowledge and skills without looking like I’m showing off?4
The initial workshop should not be the last time you offer training for your mentors. Instead, offer professional development in the form of short enrichment sessions a few times a year on topics of interest (e.g., technical careers in regional industry) or led by guest speakers whose expertise is relevant to the project. (If your mentors are faculty members, investigate offering CEUs for their participation in these sessions.) Communicate upcoming learning opportunities each month in an electronic newsletter that is distributed via email. Include a 1-2 question survey seeking mentors’ feedback on past enrichment sessions and input on topics and speakers for future programs. Incorporating mentors’ ideas into the program is one way to demonstrate respect for them—personally and professionally. A more exciting way to honor them is through recognition events in which all program participants—mentors, students, staff, community leaders, local reporters, partner organizations and agencies that support your mentoring program—gather to reflect on the hard work that goes into making the program a success. But again, don’t let this be the only time during the year that you show your appreciation. Mentors need positive feedback to sustain them along the way.
A nice little mnemonic for remembering the elements that contribute to mentor retention: CARE.
- Communication—Mentors should hear from you often and should feel free to ask for help with any problems they encounter in their mentoring experience.
- Appreciation—Mentors should be thanked regularly, both informally and formally.
- Respect—Mentors provide a wealth of life experience and professional skills and their suggestions should be considered carefully.
- Enjoyment—Mentors should
have a good time mentoring and should look forward to being with
1. CWIT Mentoring Tool Kit. Center for Women & Information Technology, University of Maryland Baltimore County, 2004.
2. CWIT Mentoring Tool Kit.
3. CWIT Mentoring Tool Kit, p. 13.
4. CWIT Mentoring Tool Kit, p. 14.
5. Adapted from the Texas Governor’s Mentoring Initiative. Quoted in How to Build A Successful Mentoring Program Using the Elements of Effective Practice, MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership, 2005.