Mentors as Friends and Friends as Mentors: Establishing a Large Constellation
The Power of Mentoring from a Leadership Position
Administrators have the ability to change the direction and culture of organizations. Too often we forget that this too has mentoring consequences.
Navigating Push and Pull Factors: How Mentoring Can Help Connect Colleagues to Support in Time of Doubt
The role of mentor often involves bridge building. Specifically, mentors work to connect colleagues with resources to help them articulate their goals and to thrive. As the relationship grows over time, trust becomes a critical element for all parties involved and the connections become more impactful and often the conversations become more personal. “Trustful” conversations can turn toward the sharing of doubts or concerns our colleagues are experiencing as they navigate their professional and personal roles in new spaces. It is not unusual for people to question whether or not the position is the right fit for their goals and aspirations. The recent national job transition phenomenon often called “the great resignation” has further amplified these conversations as our peers ask, is this the right place for me?
As MEME mentors we might tune in to what our colleagues are describing and notice that some of what is shared can be described as “pull” factors and others more accurately viewed as “push” factors.
Pull factors are external factors that draw people away from their current institution. Perhaps the individual receives a great offer from elsewhere or perhaps they want to get closer to family, or want to live in a different part of the country. Mentors can help navigate these reflective decisions as conflicting demands and desires may pull people away.
MEME mentors can also explore the push factors that encourage faculty to start experiencing doubt and initiate looking for new positions in the first place. Does our colleague report feeling supported in their unit? Do they have the resources they need to succeed? Do they feel like they are valued and that they are viewed as an equal member? How strong is their sense of belonging? Are they facing barriers that prevent inclusion? As mentors we can help identify if the barriers to inclusion are structural, interpersonal, or intrapersonal.
Structural barriers can literally be physical barriers to access and inclusion like poorly designed pathways, entries, and classrooms. However, they can also take the form of policies or procedures that create barriers which contribute to feelings of being “pushed” out of a space or setting.
Interpersonal barriers are the behaviors and ideas that prevent individuals from successfully engaging with one another. Sometimes these can be language barriers including disciplinary or positional jargon. The barriers may also involve perspective, where people are not in agreement or are not able to connect over shared goals or values.
Lastly, intrapersonal barriers are those barriers within ourselves or within others that prevent belonging. Within ourselves, it can be the feelings of imposter syndrome or self-doubt that create barriers to our ability to fit in. Of course, these are connected to structural and interpersonal barriers like elitism and potentially the implicit and unconscious biases that are within those with whom we are seeking to create community.
Implicit and unconscious bias in others also represents a form of intrapersonal barrier, because it prevents that individual from engaging with others and reduces the likelihood of there being an inclusive campus community. We all are susceptible to having intrapersonal barriers that prevent inclusion and belonging for others. We must be intentional about identifying and reducing the influence of these barriers.
How do we respond to push and pull?
We often lament our inability to interrupt the power of pull factors. Sometimes it feels like there is nothing we can do to stop outside forces from drawing faculty away. I hear this especially as units are losing STEM faculty. However, efforts to offer competitive salaries, build supportive communities, and create positive regional experiences can help reduce the pull.
Where we tend to feel we have more influence as institutional leaders is with the push factors. To prevent “push” we must ask ourselves, “Are there supports and resources available that can help our colleagues thrive?” Perhaps more importantly, “in what ways can we influence the campus climate and culture to support faculty in times of doubt?” Mentoring relationships that connect faculty and build reflective practice can reduce the potential push that being in new spaces and places may create. But one mentor cannot manifest an inclusive community alone. It takes each and every one of us to build inclusive communities. And this development happens one intentional reciprocity-based relationship at a time, like those fostered through MEME.
Wear My Crown Until You Believe You Deserve Your Own
My pronouns are she/her/QUEEN. I don’t lease or rent my crown. I own it outright. Ownership allows me to share it with anyone who needs it until they believe they are worthy of their own. My Queen pronoun isn’t based upon anything that I earned or inherited. I didn’t start wearing it until I decided to own it. I have four degrees and I am a certified project management professional. No achievement or status will ever satisfy the drive of an overachiever. Without the understanding that you are worthy of your crown just because you are you – good enough is never good enough, and self-acceptance is elusive. Part of my purpose in life is to “crown” others. Not everyone needs to be crowned but supporting and affirming others provides me with positive energy regardless of the needs of the recipient.
I am currently a tenure track assistant professor of Organizational Leadership. Over the past five years, my work has focused extensively on project management and organizational development in the context of the Organizational Leadership program in the Department of Technology Leadership and Communication in the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI. My role is as an educator who intersects in a variety of ways including teaching. Mentoring is an important element of both project management and organizational leadership. I teach Coaching and Mentoring in Organizations, a graduate level course required for our Human Resource Development Certificate. I also teach two courses required for our Project Management Certificate, Advanced Project Management and Integration of Project Management for Leaders. In my project management courses, I provide team culture coaching and mentor team leaders to achieve the projects desired outcomes. In order to provide coaching and mentoring students a more dynamic learning experience, I integrated them into the project management course to mentor and coach the individuals and teams in the project management course to achieve project outcomes.
My mentorship experiences include being a mentee, mentor, peer mentor, mentor trainer, and being a part of a MEME mentor circle. After having a series of strained mentor relationships in graduate school, primarily with white men in the disciplines of psychology and business, it was clear to me that there was a different approach to mentoring that would have more successful student outcomes, without forcing an individual to leave substantially significant parts of themselves at home. The MEME initiative approach aligns with my own values and desire to make the mentoring experience better for other people of color. I was invited to participate in a podcast series called Opening the Door: Improving Mentoring Through Stories and Science. In this podcast I discuss my experiences as an African American woman dealing with microaggressions in a mentor-mentee relationship. My lived experience as a minoritized and underrepresented person who has often been the only person of color in the room, has given me a point of connection with minoritized and underserved communities.
Mentoring to ensure successful outcomes is a core value and does not always involve formal mentoring. Some students want to talk briefly after class, others send agendas ahead of each meeting. Whether mentoring students, faculty, or staff, informally or formally, I take the same path. I start by being transparent and honest about expectations on both sides, set goals, and discuss desired outcomes. In all relationships, I focus on listening with compassion, building trust, and creating psychological safety. These tools help others feel comfortable enough to speak their truths and allow me to help them put their passion to purpose. The biggest issue I have found with informal mentoring is access. Many people of color may not have access to high-quality mentors due to systemic and structural barriers. For this reason, the MEME initiative is an extremely important component of DEI in higher education. It formalizes the process and provides mentees with trained and engaged mentors.
My journey with to join the MEME initiative started 5 years ago at IUPUI when I was invited to serve on a taskforce to pilot the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) INCLUDES self-assessment, which aimed to diversify STEM faculty at public universities. Part of my role was to collaborate with other leaders in the school to collect and provide information about DEI activities, programs, and initiatives to be aggregated with other departments in Engineering and Technology. With contributions from this taskforce, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a five-year, $10 million NSF INCLUDES Aspire Alliance grant co-led by the APLU and the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL), based at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. The project’s overarching strategy is to bring about national systemic change for STEM faculty by aligning and reinforcing professional development and hiring practices at institutional, regional, and national levels.
My work as a member of the taskforce that piloted the Aspire Alliance: The National Alliance for Inclusive & Diverse STEM Faculty initiative has continued to grow resulting in additional grant support for IUPUI. Aspire's Institutional Change Initiative (IChange) provided catalytic funding to help participating institutions advance practices that address institutional barriers to a more diverse STEM faculty. IUPUI’s funded project, Midwest Experiences in Mentoring Excellence (MEME), created a regional network to provide culturally responsive training to mentors who help develop STEM faculty from underrepresented groups. MEME connects STEM faculty across six institutions, placing emphasis on career-development mentoring opportunities for women of color. I served as a co-Investigator and project manager on this proposal. Because I had gone through the “Faculty Dialogues” mentor training and Aspire’s Facilitator Training at UCLA on Facilitating Entering Mentoring Workshop, during implementation, my role has been subject matter expert for mentoring, MEME committee member, and joy advocate. The MEME team is like a family, and I look forward to our meetings.
MEME circles for women of color continues to have a positive impact on me personally and professionally. I started participating in a MEME circle last year, and it is a place of rejuvenation. It is a circle of queens. We meet once a month on Friday evening, and it helps to level set my week. The other women in the circle are inspirational and supportive. Hearing perspectives from other women of color who are at different points on similar journeys gives me perspective and empowers me to persist and achieve my goals. This circle of queens makes me feel safe and provides me with validation for my lived experience. The leader of the MEME circle is my friend and colleague, Etta Ward. She has described me as “an effective mentor especially in the mentoring circles.” She affirmed this by saying, “Your ability to bring vulnerability and humility to the space is making the experiences – for all, that much more meaningful and sacred. Establishing sacred space is critical in mentoring relationships, and you do this well.” This is a perfect example of Queen Etta crowning me.
My recommendation to others to who want to become better mentors would be to seek out training. Training gives you tangible tools and resources that will help to ground your interactions with structured expectations and assess how things are going. My clinical psychology background prepared me to connect and listen to others to help them achieve higher levels of functioning, but that’s not mentoring. Mentoring has a different dynamic and power differential. In corporate and higher education settings, your mentor can have a very positive impact on your career success and help you navigate systems and structures based upon experience and their knowledge of your environment. As a therapist, my relationship with clients ended when they walked out of my office. As a mentor, I can provide support and advocacy for my mentee that encourages them regardless of the environment in which our paths cross. The mentor training I received helped me to transition my interactions from blank slate listening to dialogue. Training allows you to practice being vulnerable and building trust that is not one sided, and assess progress based upon appropriate goals and expectations.
In conclusion, mentoring is a form of service that has an infinite and expansive impact. When I think back to the mentors that I have had in my life, I am grateful for their time and energy. I show my gratitude by pouring my energy and time into others. This is a resource chain with an impact that can’t be quantified. When I hear from former students or colleagues that I have mentored about their success, it refuels my personal reservoir of resilience and gives meaning to my current work. The flow of positive energy is never ending.