By Amanda Wilson
Director, Student Affairs, APUS
Recently, I had the privilege of attending the 2017 International Mentoring Association (IMA) conference, held at the University of North Carolina’s campus in Wilmington, North Carolina. I was there to discuss the exceptional work we’re doing in virtual mentoring at American Public University System.
As a first-time attendee, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was excited to jump right in. The IMA conference included a wide range of corporate, non-profit and government members. A majority of the attendees represented institutions of higher education.
The presentations ranged from mentoring best practices to the future of mentoring. Those presentations included discussions and keynote speakers, promoting the value of a culture centered on mentorship.
Mentoring Involves Professional and Personal Development
Mentoring is the idea that we form and nurture relationships of intention. This intention is the development and ongoing evolution of self – whether that focus is personal or professional.
Think about this for a second: Who do you turn to in times of need or when you must participate in difficult and challenging discussions? With whom do you share your successes? Who makes up your network of influence?
IMA Exercises Provided Additional Insight about Mentoring
In the “Navigating Mentoring: Formal Programs and Networks” exercise led by Dr. Dawn Chandler, Associate Professor of Management at the UNC-W McColl School of Business, attendees assessed their current network of support. They listed on paper the people who contribute to their personal and professional success by coaching, sponsoring or championing them as people.
Once each attendee finished the list, the individuals on the list were classified by the type of guidance, motivation and inspiration they provided (i.e. work, academic or personal). With some reflection, the participants drew their own conclusions about any gaps or areas they might benefit from by adding new mentors to their network of influence.
The exercise proved beneficial for many attendees, with energetic group discussions about the impact and potential of mentoring. Topics and themes that arose included:
- Mentoring and its impact in multi-generational work environments
- Transferring knowledge and experience
- Eliminating the “sink or swim” mentality in the workplace
- Using mentoring to inspire and motivate youth
- Donating your time and energy as a leader to elevate and inspire others
In the “Building a Culture of Mentorship” session, presented by Allison McWilliams, Director of Mentoring and Alumni Personal and Career Development at Wake Forest University, we ventured into building and sustaining effective mentoring programs. In discussion about the role of mentors specifically, Allison referenced two quotes that were notably powerful:
- “Being present in the moment with someone is the greatest gift you can give them. Hearing someone out and letting them know what they are going through is normal, is invaluable.”
- “Leadership is about showing up for people.”
After a few sessions, my colleague and I sat on the balcony at UNC-W, watching the students walking to class. We began reflecting on our own collegiate experiences, eventually asking the inevitable question, “Would you go back and do it again?”
The thoughts, experiences and insight that came from the discussion were the ultimate testament to the value of mentorship. In tandem with Allison McWilliams’ ideas above, we validated our own ability to give back through leadership and mentoring — simply as experts of our own experiences.
What Could You Accomplish as Your Best Self?
In one of the final sessions, someone mentioned a “Best Self” exercise, which challenged us to think about ourselves at the end of our life or career. If you were to consider your life in retrospect, what would your best life or best self be? Where would your time go? What guidance or advice would you give your younger self?
The exercise left me pondering success and direction in general. It also showed me the value of becoming more strategic at life, building short- and long-term goals that support my vision, and connecting with mentors who could help steer and inspire my own success.
APUS Student Affairs Provides Mentoring through ClearPath
The Student Affairs department at American Public University System (APUS) is dedicated to providing the tools necessary to build relationships on a virtual campus — as well as the resources for our students and alumni to use in cultivating mentoring relationships in their day-to-day lives.
Through ClearPath, the university’s virtual community platform, we place an emphasis on connecting students, alumni, faculty and university staff. You can search for mentors in different categories: community leaders, professionals, service members, parents taking courses, specific careers or industries.
As you begin your mentoring relationships, think about your needs and abilities going into a mentorship. Spend some time reflecting on your current network of influence and consider filling in your skills and knowledge gaps to further develop yourself.
About the Author
Amanda Wilson joined American Public University System in 2008 and currently serves as the Director of Student Affairs, developing and expanding co-curricular programming and engagement opportunities. Throughout her tenure, Amanda has developed the groundwork and launched mentoring, student organizations, virtual communities and campus leadership programming.