Building a Comprehensive Faculty Mentoring Program: A Case Study
This article first appeared in The Best of the 2021 Leadership in Higher Education Conference (Magna Publications, 2022).
Our efforts to mentor tenure-track faculty began in conversations about faculty success on campus. In 2018, Ollie Dreon was serving in his fifth year as the director of the Center for Academic Excellence (CAE) at Millersville University. The CAE serves as a professional development hub on campus and works to advance student-centered instructional practices across campus. In his role as director, Ollie also facilitated a weeklong orientation for new faculty. While Ollie was working in the CAE, Leslie Gates was serving on the university promotion and tenure committee. These roles provided us with two different viewpoints of our colleagues’ careers. Ollie met faculty as they arrived on campus and sought to establish themselves and their work. Leslie reviewed faculty members’ work in their applications for tenure and promotion at each rank. We both recognized that our colleagues were getting very different levels of support depending on the departments and colleges in which they worked. At the time, the institution did not have an intentional or comprehensive mentoring program to support faculty as they navigated the stages of their careers. While some faculty received informal mentorship from departmental colleagues, others received none. We felt that this inconsistency may be creating inequitable experiences for our colleagues and that a more comprehensive faculty mentoring program could address these issues campus wide.
Although we saw the need for a formal faculty mentoring initiative on campus, the arrival of Dr. Ieva Zake, the new dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, jump-started the work. At her previous institution, Dr. Zake had helped to lead a faculty mentoring program and asked about the mentoring initiatives in place at Millersville. We had little to report. While we knew about the informal practices that some departments had adopted, we didn’t know how widespread this practice was. In 2018, we surveyed departments and found that roughly 50 percent of new faculty were paired with mentors. While this identified the extent of the problem, we also recognized that a handful of people would not be able to solve it. We needed to find a team.
The CAE had a regular practice of offering semester-long book studies for faculty and staff called Campus Learning Communities (CLC). In fall 2018, Ollie facilitated a CLC around the book Faculty Success through Mentoring (Bland et al., 2009). In retrospect, the CLC served two important functions: it helped us identify interested colleagues who could help our mentoring efforts and provided a common vocabulary and vision for mentoring from which we worked. Ten faculty members participated in the CLC and discussed the evidentiary base for faculty mentoring. Research shows that mentoring processes can improve job and career satisfaction (Ambrose et al., 2005), research productivity (Bland et al., 2005; Paul et al., 2002; Wilson et al., 2002), teaching effectiveness (Goodwin et al., 1998), and socialization to the campus community (Corcoran & Clark, 1984; Ritchie & Genoni, 2002). While the benefits of faculty mentoring became clearer to the CLC members, the formation of a comprehensive faculty mentoring program would require more time and effort.
Seven faculty members from the CLC and Dr. Zake decided to form an ad hoc committee to envision what increasing the amount and quality of faculty mentoring on campus might look like. We adopted the mentoring definition presented in Faculty Success through Mentoring to guide and situate our efforts: mentoring is a collaborative learning relationship that develops over time and passes through specific phases designed to help mentees acquire the key competencies and constructive work relationships to lead a successful and satisfying career (Bland et al., 2009). Adopting this definition provided us with a common vision. We also identified our need for additional information before deciding our next steps.
We surveyed department chairs about their practices for mentoring new faculty. The data not only further confirmed the lack of consistent mentoring across campus but also identified other areas of need. For example, those faculty who were serving as mentors did not have a clear set of expectations for their role. Additionally, departments did not provide training or guidance for mentors. This information provided the starting point for our mentoring efforts.
Beginning in fall 2019, we communicated with deans and department chairs to ensure that all new first-year faculty were paired with in-department mentors. We also offered second-year faculty the opportunity for mentoring. Thirteen second-year faculty members sought additional mentoring. That fall, our group also offered a workshop to train faculty serving as mentors to first- and second-year faculty.
In our experience, faculty who volunteer to serve as mentors are typically generous and well-intentioned. Like any relationship, however, the mentor-mentee one can be hard to navigate. An unclear purpose, different expectations, and unequal power dynamics can make establishing and maintaining the relationship challenging. Because we view mentoring as a collaborative learning relationship, we wanted to find additional ways to support these relationships as they develop over time and pass through specific phases.
One of our strategies to support mentors and mentees was to offer programming with the needs of mentors and mentees in mind. We began offering sessions for pre-tenure faculty through the CAE. The first year we offered 10 sessions, which ranged in topic from becoming a more effective teacher to feeling more connected at Millersville University. The sessions involved 21 guest presenters who represented 15 different departments across campus. These sessions often took the form of group mentoring sessions due to their highly interactive nature and because one or both of us facilitated these sessions, which provided some consistency and relationship building across sessions. By the end of the 2019–20 academic year, we had offered more programming than ever to support faculty mentoring on campus and have continued most of this work in the subsequent 18 months. We also learned that programming to support faculty mentors and mentees is crucial—but not sufficient—to create a culture of mentoring on campus. To do this, we felt we needed to formalize our roles as mentoring leaders and to create a more formal mentoring committee.
In fall 2020, we were named as fellows for faculty mentoring. By this point, Leslie’s term on the promotion and tenure committee and Ollie’s tenure as the director of the CAE had ended. Through our new roles as fellows for faculty mentoring, we’ve worked to create both the processes and practices to support mentoring as well as to foster a campus-wide appreciation for faculty mentoring. We have also formed a campus-wide faculty mentoring committee to increase buy-in and involve others who saw mentoring as an important part of their service or scholarly work on campus. Recently, the committee has focused on establishing a culture of mentoring and increasing the quality of mentoring on campus. The committee has also been evaluating data from previous years, considering our work in relationship to the International Mentoring Association’s standards, and establishing a faculty mentoring award.
We realized early on that our goal was not to establish a new program on campus but rather to make faculty mentoring part of campus culture. While we still have plenty of work to do, a few lessons we have learned might be helpful for others seeking to support a culture of faculty mentoring on their campuses. We are faculty leaders who had to find and involve the right people to support and accomplish the work. None of the faculty mentoring efforts on our campus are mandatory or a result of administrative decree. Over one-third of the full-time faculty on campus have been involved with our efforts to date, and this is the result of a continually expanding network of colleagues who recognize the value of the work and choose to engage. The expanding network is the result of intentional and strategic invitations for colleagues to join us in the work. Additional faculty involvement has allowed us to accomplish more, establish buy-in, and continue to shift the culture by demonstrating the value of the work. Having more colleagues invested and engaged in the work increases the likelihood the work will continue beyond our appointed terms as fellows for faculty mentoring. Deciding each next step was informed and directed by data we collected regularly from mentors, mentees, department chairs, and members of the faculty mentoring committee. Gathering this data also demonstrates our interest in the participants’ ideas and experiences and our commitment to improving the quality of the work we do.
Our mentoring efforts began in conversation and continue to develop that way. What has changed is the number of people involved in the conversation and the data and experiences that inform the discussion. We are fueled by these and other indicators that the culture on campus has begun to shift. We are encouraged by the first-year faculty who view the unprecedented support they receive on campus as normal. Their experience is instrumental to shifting the culture on campus for future generations of faculty at Millersville.
Bland, C. J., Taylor, A. L, Shollen, S. L., Weber-Main, A. M., & Mulcahy, P. A. (2009). Faculty success through mentoring: A guide for mentors, mentees, and leaders. Rowman & Littlefield.
Corcoran, M., & Clark, S. M. (1984). Professional socialization and contemporary career attitudes of three faculty generations. Research in Higher Education, 20(2), 131–153. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00991464
Goodwin, L. D., Stevens, E. A., & Bellamy, G. T. (1998). Mentoring among faculty in schools, colleges, and departments of education. Journal of Teacher Education, 49(5), 334–343. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022487198049005003
Paul, S., Stein, F., Ottenbacher, K. J., & Liu, Y. (2002). The role of mentoring on research productivity among occupational therapy faculty. Occupational Therapy International, 9(1), 24–40. https://doi.org/10.1002/oti.154
Ritchie, A., & Genoni, P. (2002). Group mentoring and professionalism: A programme evaluation. Library Management, 23(1/2), 68–78. https://doi.org/10.1108/01435120210413869
Wilson, P. P., Pereira, A., & Valentine, D. (2002). Perceptions of new social work faculty about mentoring experiences. Journal of Social Work Education, 38(2), 317–333. https://doi.org/10.1080/10437797.2002.10779100
Oliver Dreon, PhD, is a professor of educational foundations at Millersville University of Pennsylvania.
Leslie Gates, PhD, is an associate professor of art education at Millersville University of Pennsylvania.