That Aha! Moment

UBC Reports | Vol.
51 | No. 6 |
Jun. 2, 2005

Inventive approaches to mentoring are helping a growing
number of students, faculty and alumni staff discover fresh

By Randy Schmidt

“A year and a half ago, I was wondering if my degree
would be any good once I graduated,” says Meghan McLennan,
a biology graduate who, like many students, found herself
struggling with the transition into the ‘real world.’
“Now, I’m employed in a job I love, thinking about
doing my PhD in a couple of years.”

What made the difference? For McLennan, who works as a research
technician, it was a new program that puts a unique twist
on an old concept: mentorship. Called tri-mentoring, the innovative
approach is leading a resurgence in mentoring initiatives
throughout UBC.

The idea behind tri-mentoring is to engage and support students
at key transition points. Senior students are assigned industry
mentors, who help them navigate the difficult road from campus
life to the work world. At the same time, those senior students
mentor junior students, helping them make the transition to
the newfound freedom and rigours of university.

Launched in 2001-02 with 42 students and 21 mentors in the
Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, it has quickly expanded
to include 537 students and 260 mentors in the Dept. of Computer
Science, the Faculty of Engineering, the life sciences, the
Faculty of Arts, the Faculty of Dentistry, UBC’s Golden
Key (Honour) Society and the Campus Sustainability Office.

“My mentor in fourth year was a PhD candidate named
Erin Boyle from [UBC researcher] Brett Finlay’s lab,”
says McLennan. “She was able to provide a couple of
directions I could take after I finished my degree. Erin helped
proofread my resume since I didn’t know what academic
employers wanted to see, and she also suggested the best way
to approach the professors about employment.”

Linda Alexander, director of UBC’s Career Services,
the unit that helps faculties and groups at UBC develop customized
tri-mentoring programs, says the growth of UBC programs is
due to the fact that participants find many layers of value,
and the time commitment is manageable.

“They learn who they are as an individual,”
says Alexander, who recently presented UBC’s tri-mentoring
program to the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.
“There is that ‘AHA!’ moment when they see
how what they are doing at university connects to the real
world. Mentoring helps accelerate, or facilitate, that moment.”

UBC’s approach allows faculties to design tri-mentoring
to meet particular needs. In 2003, for example, Mechanical
Engineering Prof. Elizabeth Croft was approached by two UBC
student members of the Division for Advancement of Women in
Engineering and Geoscience of the Association of the Professional
Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C. to start a mentoring program
for women.

“Many women students complete their program without
having any meaningful contact with women professors and engineering
professionals to provideimportant role modeling and mentorship
assistance,” says Croft, who started the program as
a pilot for women students, and then tripled the program size
to accommodate both men and women.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive. We
had twice the number of applicants in September than we had
space for,” says Croft, who adds she is not aware of
any mentoring program of similar size or format in an engineering
school in Canada.

Mentoring activities exist in a myriad of other ways at
UBC. They include a range of community outreach activities
that connect UBC students with local elementary and high school
students, executive mentorships in UBC’s Sauder School
of Business, and a growing number of alumni mentorship activities
that connected sixty alumni with more than 1,100 students
last year.

UBC’s Teaching and Academic Growth Unit has offered
faculty lunches and networking initiatives for some time to
support incoming professors. It is growing its faculty mentorship
efforts to support new professors through a pilot project
in the Faculty of Arts called “Focus on Teaching.”
To date 35 faculty mentees have taken part in the new program,
meant to help junior faculty members reflect on their teaching
and enhance it.

The UBC’s Human Resources division has created an innovative
new service called UBC Coaching Services. It provides qualified
executive and personal coaches for faculty and staff members
to enhance their professional development. The service has
coached 167 UBC staff and faculty since it began in 2001.
It has developed a model director Justin Marples says is a
first among universities that has seen it expand services
to external community groups and businesses, providing a revenue
stream back into UBC.

Ultimately, says Alexander, the UBC mentorship culture has
grown as participants enjoy a greater sense of community and
enhanced personal learning. A case in point is McLennan, who
returned to the program last year as an industry mentor, working
with two students.

“It brings great benefits for mentors as well,”
says Alexander. “Giving back is a huge motivation. Mentors
learn about themselves too. It helps re-energize them.”

The UBC Tri-Mentoring Program is funded by the Counselling
Foundation of Canada, whose goal is to to engage in charitable
and educational activities for the benefit of people, enabling
them to improve their lifestyles and make a more effective
contribution to their communities. (