9 FeedbackTopFurther Reading8 Building a Mentoring System

8 Building a Mentoring
System from
the Ground Up


Sheila Hemami (Chair)

Cornell University
School of Electrical
and Computer Engineering
Suzanne Brainard Executive Director
Center for Workforce Development
University of Washington
Tine Reimers CU-ADVANCE Center
Cornell University

The intent of this chapter is to provide a "one-stop shopping guide" for individuals, chairs, or administrators who wish to implement a mentoring program at their institution, either formally or informally. A wide variety of topics, mentoring strategies, and material intended to be especially useful to those who are starting from scratch is presented.

Mentors and mentoring program coordinators should be aware of differential factors affecting women and minorities in academic engineering and science careers throughout the mentoring process. Four case studies are summarized to serve as examples: one for students and three for faculty. A graduate student mentoring program directed by Suzanne Brainard at the University of Washington features extensive student tracking and feedback to the institution. One of the faculty mentoring programs provides peer mentoring with a speaker series, while two provide more individualized mentoring programs, with varying degrees of formality and responsibilities. Two of these mentoring programs in the College of Engineering at Cornell University supplement existing within-department mentoring programs and were faculty initiated. A Peer Mentoring Lunch series was initiated by Sheila Hemami and is now administered and organized by the College. The second is a one-on-one mentoring program for women faculty in the College which was initiated by the senior women faculty in the College. The third mentoring program was a formal mentoring program instituted by Tine Reimers at the University of Texas, El Paso, for women faculty across the University as part of UTEP's ADVANCE program.

Finally, resources for those wishing to start a mentoring program are provided, including questionnaires, forms, and educational materials.

8.1 Differential factors affecting women and minorities in academic engineering and science careers

There are many and various factors which may differentially impact women and members of racial minority groups in the mentoring process. The discussion that follows includes issues which are statistically significant, but it is important to remember that not all women and not all underrepresented minorities (URMs) will be impacted by all of these issues or necessarily by any of them. Mentors and mentoring program coordinators should be aware of these factors throughout the mentoring process. Women and URM new faculty may be unwilling to state their needs for fear of being labeled as troublesome or uncooperative, and mentors should be forthright about asking questions of their mentees to draw out such issues if necessary.

The new faculty member may be in an emerging field or multidisciplinary area with which the senior faculty are unfamiliar. Anecdotal evidence indicates that women have a higher probability of crossing boundaries between two fields. One example is Barbara McClintock's work on maize cytogenetics which led to her discovery of genetic transposition, for which she won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1983. Research in such interdisciplinary areas often has more immediate impact than research in older, more established areas, and women more than men on average prefer research problems which can provide such an immediate impact. However, evaluation of faculty who work in such areas is often difficult, as their publication record may appear strange relative to others in the same department or unit who have worked on more traditional problems firmly contained within the discipline.

Women and URMs often face a "hidden workload" because of their gender or race. They are expected to serve on more committees, to do more student advising, and to participate in more outreach activities because they are seen as representing their gender or race.

Lastly, family obligations and community expectations for service activities can be time commitments that the new faculty member values but which can sometimes be undervalued by senior faculty.

By virtue of simply being members of the non-majority, women and minorities have less access to informal networks which provide valuable mentoring and guidance. Women who do not fit into gender schemas or meet stereotypical expectations for their gender can be unfairly negatively characterized by their male colleagues. For example, women who are outspoken are labeled as "pushy" while equally outspoken men are "forthright." Women and minorities are often called upon to represent their entire gender or race, and are not seen as individuals.

8.2 Case study 1
University of Washington graduate
student mentoring

The University of Washington provides a one-on-one mentoring program for students affiliated with the Center for Nanotechnology (CNT). Through the program, both students in the dual degree Ph.D. program and those with funding through certain grants are matched with faculty or industry mentors. The mentor/mentee matching is driven by student requests for what they are looking for in a mentoring relationship. Mentors and students participating in the program include both men and women, and particular attention is directed to female students and students of color.

All students associated with the CNT are tracked through their academic progression with a series of interviews given when they start the program, at regular points throughout their time at the university, and when they leave the university. Since 2001, the Center for Workforce Development (CWD) has tracked six cohorts of students through the CNT. Information that is gathered post-graduation includes information about their employment as well as their job search process. This information provides CNT with feedback about their programs.

Students associated with the CNT are also encouraged to participate in the Nanotechnology Mentoring Program (NMP), offered through CWD, in which students are matched with a faculty or industry mentor, as fits their needs. This program provides students with an alternate support network and also gives students an opportunity to interact with people who are actively using Nanotechnology in their work.

Annually, both mentees and mentors are asked to complete an evaluation. These evaluations ask about the quality of the relationship, what impact the mentoring relationship has had on the student, and the types of topics they have discussed. The major findings of the mentoring evaluations include the following.

8.3 Case study 2
Cornell College of Engineering peer
mentoring for junior faculty

The Peer Mentoring Lunch series began in fall 2004, following the description of a similar series in the Stanford Civil Engineering Department at the first PAESMEM workshop in June 2004. Sheila Hemami obtained a small NSF grant based on her interactions at the workshop to institute the program at Cornell. The initial goal was simply to bring together the junior (untenured) faculty (both men and women) from across the College of Engineering (11 departments with approximately 250 faculty) once each month so they could share experiences and benefit from peer mentoring. After the first semester, the junior faculty requested speakers at the lunches, and the series has run approximately monthly since January 2005 with a speaker at each meeting.

Current topics include:

Lunchtime attendance is typically between 10 and 20 (the number of assistant professors in the College of Engineering is approximately 50). Several positive outcomes from the lunch series have become evident. In spite of the size of the College, some junior faculty have been the only assistant professors in their departments. The lunches allow such faculty to develop a group of peers which is absent in their departments. Additionally, the lunches have been effective in reaching some women faculty who have not generally participated in women faculty events within the College and therefore are not using that resource for informal mentoring. The lunches allow junior faculty for whom the formal departmental mentoring is not working well to gain valuable information to which they may not otherwise have access. Lastly, since this program was institutionalized, the responsible Associate Dean often attends or stops by the lunches, and this has provided a mechanism by which the junior faculty can convey their concerns directly to the administration of the College of Engineering.

8.4 Case study 3
Mentoring of senior women in Cornell's
College of Engineering

The women engineering faculty at Cornell - a group of between 25 and 30 - has historically been a very proactive group both within the College of Engineering and within the university. For example, this group spearheaded the writing and adoption of a parental leave policy within the college which was eventually further improved and adopted by the university (no policy existed prior to this event). It also proposed an internal grant program to incentivize the hiring of women faculty in the college of engineering which was a precursor to the NSF-funded ADVANCE program implemented at Cornell.

This group had historically provided informal mentoring to junior women by nature of its regular gatherings, both social and to address issues of concern in the College. As such, many but not all junior women sought the advice of a senior out-of-department woman for feedback on the three-year review, tenure, and promotion-to-full professor dossier preparation. The dossier review was known to be available, but it was offered as a passive service to those who requested it rather than an active service through which all junior women were shepherded. As such, individuals who were uncomfortable asking for help or who simply decided against it did not receive the benefits of this service.

In spring 2006, the senior women initiated a one-on-one mentoring program with the goal of providing a mentor who could work closely with the mentee throughout the process leading to tenure review. This process includes preparation of the three-year review dossier, review and analysis of the reappointment letter with the mentee, guidance in developing a plan for the remaining years prior to the tenure review based on reappointment feedback, and preparation of the tenure review dossier. The preparation assistance includes detailed critiques of the CV and teaching, research, and service statements.

To date, two participants in this probram have been promoted to associate professor with tenure. At the time of writing, three more cases were under consideration, all of which were prepared with the help of the mentors.

8.5 Case study 4
Faculty mentoring program for women at the University of Texas, El Paso

A campus-wide Faculty Mentoring Program for Women was developed and implemented at the University of Texas at El Paso by Tine Reimers, then Director of the Center for Effective Teaching and Learning. No campus-wide mentoring program existed prior to the advent of this program, so it truly represents an effort "built from the ground up." The intent of the program was to provide out-of-department mentoring, and it was designed to augment rather than compete with or replace intra-departmental efforts. It was redesigned several times in the course of its early years to better incorporate the successful components of the initial program and to improve upon components that did not greatly enhance the professional lives of participants.

Year 1 The initial program provided one-on-one mentoring for all tenure-track or tenured women. New faculty starting their positions at UTEP arrived to find a letter from the President of the university on their desks describing the mentoring program along with a small gift such as a mug or a pen. (As a result of this personalized invitation to join, this program has had 100% participation of the new women faculty on campus, since its inception in the fall of 2000.)

In this first iteration, each woman was paired with two mentors, one from within her college and one from outside of her college. One of these mentors was male and one was female. Monthly meetings for mentoring partners were centrally scheduled by the Center for Effective Teaching and Learning, with as many of the participants attending as their schedules allowed. Additional communication was expected between the mentoring partners outside the formal monthly events.

The success of this program was studied extensively during the first year through monthly online questionnaires, paper surveys, and focus groups. The evaluation indicated that while the gender of the mentor had no effect on the effectiveness of the mentoring relationship, the proximity of the mentor had an enormous effect. Those mentor and mentee pairs from within a college were much more likely to run into one another in the hall or parking lot, resulting in far more meetings over coffee or casual encounters as they dropped by their mentoring partner's office. Pairs from different colleges met rarely and both mentors and mentees in these pairs indicated that they did not get very much out of their relationship due to spending so little time together.

Year 2 The program was revised in Year 2 in response to the evaluation. Upon request by mentees and mentors, the length of the agreed-upon mentoring relationship was extended from one year to 18 months. Also, each incoming woman was assigned only one mentor. This single mentor had no gender restriction, but was selected from inside the mentee's college, but outside the mentee's department. In addition in Year 2, monthly brownbag lunches for mentees only were instituted to provide peer mentoring. Evaluations from the first year indicated that the peer mentoring that took place in the monthly luncheons was so powerful that it was often perceived as being even more effective than the one-on-one mentoring that took place in those sessions.

Year 3 Program evaluation after the second year showed that certain important communication gaps existed between some mentor/mentee pairs. Mentors were unwilling to appear "pushy" when their mentees seemed to be doing well and did not insist on regular meetings. Meanwhile, mentees were reluctant to "bother" such busy people as their mentors with what seemed to them trivial questions. As a result, both mentors and mentees reported that mentoring pairs communicated less frequently than was ideal. In response to this finding, a new goal-setting workshop was developed for mentees before they even met their mentors, focusing on their professional goals as well as goals for their mentoring relationships. Additionally, a new mentor orientation was instituted to share best mentoring practices with mentors and answer any questions they might have about the relationship they were entering into. A major challenge throughout the first 5 years of the program was finding enough good mentors. Mentors were required to have demonstrated positive records in not only teaching and research, but also in character. The program experienced the well-known phenomenon that individuals who teach well, do effective research, and view themselves as citizens and community builders are typically incredibly busy. This resulted in highly qualified faculty declining to participate in the mentoring program.

Years 5 and 6 By the sixth year of the program, women who had participated as mentees and had received tenure began to volunteer to be mentors, which alleviated some of the difficulty in recruiting successful mentors. To address the dearth of good mentors and to further highlight peer mentoring, a team mentoring approach was adopted, pairing two mentors with a group of 5-6 women faculty. Again, mentors had to be from within the same college as the mentees, but from outside their departments. This approach had the merit of conserving good mentors so as to distribute a scarce resource, as well as providing peer mentoring for the mentors. The monthly mentees-only brownbags and monthly luncheons for mentoring teams were retained throughout the years. By year 6, mentors were requesting additional mentor-only meetings periodically throughout the year.

Conclusion This program has emerged as a successful professional development tool for women faculty and a recruiting tool for UTEP. As a result of the program, fewer and fewer women express concern about what is expected of them for tenure and promotion or how to balance research, teaching, and service. Instead, the program began to hear comments about its value and that of a university that would offer such a program. New hires have reported that the existence of the Faculty Mentoring Program for Women contributed to their decision to accept a position at UTEP, because it showed that UTEP takes women seriously and supports them in their professional endeavors.

8.6 Resources

Materials for mentors and mentees

The documents for mentors and mentees described below are provided in Appendix 12. The first two are designed to help mentees explore areas in which they would like mentoring advice, and think about how the would like to have conversations with their mentoring teams. The third is a sample list of mentoring topics to jump-start their thinking.

These documents are provided to the mentees in a 1.5 hour workshop, in which they fill them out and are briefed on the mentoring program. The same documents are then provided to the mentors at a lunchtime mentor orientation to prepare them for their mentoring experience. Once confronted with the potential expectations of their mentees, mentors had many questions which were answered at the orientation.

Materials for mentoring relationship planning

Mentoring agreements

Mentors and mentee training

Mentoring is not a skill with which humans are born, and prospective and current mentors need information on how to maximize their effectiveness. Likewise, mentees will benefit greatly from instruction on how to effectively use feedback and how to get the most out of a relationship. A variety of materials are available for mentor training, including a curriculum for mentor and mentee training developed at the University of Washington. This curriculum is available at http://www.engr.washington.edu/cwd/.

November 15, 2007

9 FeedbackTopFurther Reading8 Building a Mentoring System