Creating an Effective Mentoring Program, Part 2: Program Design Considerations
This is the second in a series of articles about creating and maintaining an effective mentoring program.
There are many ways to successfully organize an effective faculty mentoring program. Since one size doesn’t fit all, campus leaders must determine the best use of available resources to meet the needs of new faculty members based on local circumstances, opportunities, and constraints.
When developing an effective mentoring program, there are several critical decisions you must make:
- Formal mentoring, informal mentoring, or a combination. Whether your institution uses a formal or informal mentoring program or some combination of the two depends on your situation. Formal mentoring programs can be administered with specified reporting requirements and accountability. Mentors and mentored faculty are formally assigned and publicly announced, with ongoing expectations for prescribed participation. The mentorship period could be as short as one semester or as long as it takes to help a mentee complete the tenure process. Informal programs tend to be more ad hoc and unstructured but can still be measured and incentivized.
- One-to-one, many-to-one, many-to-many, or one-to-many. Depending on your faculty structure, size, campus resources, and needs, you will need to determine what combination of mentor resources will best meet the needs of your newer faculty members. For some colleges, the simplest and most effective program will consist of pairing up mentors and mentees one-to-one. For larger faculties, you might find greater success in assigning mentor specialists who each work with new faculty members on one particular aspect of their training. Other faculties will find success with a one-to-many model where one mentor works with all new faculty members for a given amount of time.
- Single mentor vs. team approach. Finding “the perfect mentor” is unlikely. New faculty member A needs support and tutelage to improve both her teaching and scholarship. Senior faculty member X is an outstanding teacher, but is only a mediocre researcher and author. Senior faculty member Y is just the opposite. Under this scenario, faculty member A is far more likely to succeed with your department expectations if you assign X as her teaching mentor and Y as her research and writing mentor.
- Mandatory vs. opt-in. Will you make participation in your mentoring program mandatory—for both new faculty hires as well as potential senior faculty mentors? Or will you allow faculty members to opt in and out? While few faculty members will voluntarily seek more work, a mandatory program will generally serve your organization best in the long run.
- Incentivized vs. non-incentivized. Hoping that a non-incentivized program will be beneficial and receive the sustained wholehearted commitment of both mentors and mentees alike is betting against human nature. Providing incentive pay is certainly not the only option available. Student teaching and research assistance, lightened teaching or publication requirements, a guaranteed parking space, release from other department committee assignments, and many other alternatives can be creative ways to provide incentivized participation.
- Entire faculty participation vs. selective participation. Regardless of how the mentoring workload is shared among your senior faculty members, it will still result in more work for the faculty members involved. You and your faculty should have an open discussion regarding the benefits, costs, and responsibilities involved in supporting a meaningful mentoring program.
Several additional decisions will also need to be made before you formally begin your mentoring program, such as:
- Will your mentoring program be organized and administered at the university, college, or department level?
- Who will administer your mentoring program? Are there advantages to having separate administrators at each organizational level?
- What reporting responsibilities will your administrator, mentors, and mentees have?
- What goals do you have for new faculty who successfully complete your mentoring program?
- What part, if any, should active participation in your mentoring program have when making decisions regarding tenure or rank advancement?
- How will you measure your mentoring program’s success or failure?
- How often should mentors and mentees meet? Monthly during the first semester can be a good starting point.
- What resources can your administrator prepare and provide to the mentors and mentees within your program? Successful mentoring experiences seldom just happen. Don’t make mentors reinvent the wheel. Provide them with pertinent information that they can then contextualize for their mentees without requiring them to be the expert on everything (e.g. benefits, campus policies, legal questions, etc.).
- What program-wide activities will your administrator provide for mentoring program participants? Each semester, for example, you may wish to gather all mentors and mentees for a luncheon with an appropriate guest speaker.
- How long will mentor assignments last? One year? Two years? Through tenure application?
The more accurately you can envision your program in advance, the greater will be your for success. Look for the sweet spot between organization and flexibility.
Kenneth L. Alford, PhD, is a professor at Brigham Young University. Tyler J. Griffin, PhD, is an associate teaching professor at Brigham Young University. Reach them at Ken_Alford@byu.edu and Tyler_Griffin@byu.edu.