It’s common for newbies in various career fields to find themselves a mentor as they work their way up the ladder, but college students and even young children can also benefit from spending time with a mentor.
Mentors are sometimes called coaches, counselors, role models or a variety of other different names, but in layman’s terms a mentor is simply a person that takes someone under their wing to offer guidance, suggestions and helpful “been there, done that” advice.
Some of the most successful people in the world have had mentors or served as mentors to people in their lives. Helen Keller was mentored by her teacher Anne Sullivan. Denzel Washington was mentored by Sidney Poitier. Quincy Jones was mentored by Ray Charles. Hundreds of other famous mentor-mentee relationship examples exist.
Incoming freshman and transfer students are typically assigned an academic advisor, usually a faculty member in their declared major. An advisor’s role is to help guide students through their degree program, suggesting particular classes and approving prospective course schedules before heading down to registration each semester.
Unfortunately, though, a lot of students only see their advisor once or twice a semester, which doesn’t provide much opportunity for mentoring. As with anything in life, some advisors are better than others. Academic advisors can serve as mentors for college students—and some do—the two terms aren’t necessarily interchangeable. Most students benefit more by finding a true mentor in addition to their advisor.
Good mentor-student relationships are rooted in the same precepts as good teaching practice, said Steven Volk, a professor in Oberlin College’s history department and director of its Center for Teaching Innovation and Excellence. The process, when done effectively, entails asking questions of students instead of supplying answers, entering into a dialogue instead of a monologue, and giving students some control rather than trying to exert it oneself. “The relationships here are not about you, they’re about your students,” he said, reports Inside Higher Ed.
Some colleges and universities have structured faculty mentoring programs, assigning a mentor to each student. If yours does not, take the initiative to find your own mentor. If you seem to “click” with a particular professor, come right out and ask if they’d help you out and mentor you. Chances are pretty good that they will say yes—especially if you’re able to visit them during office hours. You can even offer to be their teaching assistant if your schedule permits.
Even though professors are considered experts, many of them have been working in an academic setting for a long period of time. Students—especially college seniors that are approaching graduation—can gain a lot of insight by spending time with someone that currently works in their chosen industry. Some colleges and universities can pair students with local professionals for advice and know-how, but many are without such programs.
Twenty-four year old Ashkon Jafari tells USA Today that he received critical advice about his career path and college classes from a professional while he was still in school. He believes that other students should also have the same kind of mentoring experience because they need networking and career advice, especially when faced with a tough job market upon graduation.
“We know there is a huge need out there. Many students don’t have access to professionals, or they go to schools where it’s harder to get connections, for example, with someone working on Wall Street. This is a way to find out how to get yourself on that path, if that’s what you want,” Jafari, the founder of Student Mentor, told the newspaper.
Student Mentor is a non-profit organization that matches college students who are seeking career or academic advice with professionals from all industries—for free. Students are mentored in person, by phone and online. For information on finding a mentor through this program, visit Mentee Guidelines.
In college, even one year’s extra experience can make a world of difference. That’s why many schools have structured peer mentoring programs which pair upperclassman with incoming freshmen—or any other student who needs a shoulder to lean on.
Serving as a mentor is just as rewarding as having a mentor, and college students can benefit from helping younger teens and children. Most colleges can provide information on volunteering as a mentor in your community, but several structured programs exist.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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