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

That Aha! Moment

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

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. (http://www.counselling.net).

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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