Mentoring in Higher Education

I get a lot of questions and comments from friends and family that I travel a lot, and I mean a lot. I think they expect a college professor to be hanging out in an office with scattered papers and dog-eared books strewn about. That definitely can be true, except for when I’m traveling to industry conferences. I typically will travel overnight five to eight times a year, often with students from my department. While I do enjoy traveling to new destinations (Denver & San Diego this year), I am also the kind of person that would be happy to relax at home with a good book or new show. So what keeps me on the road? What keeps me traveling to so many conferences, often with students? Mentoring.

When I started my undergraduate degree many years ago I had the goal of working with students in some capacity. This calling evolved into becoming a college professor and mentoring students in and out of the classroom. Specifically, I’ve been charged with helping to build the next generation of financial planners at my university. So at my core is the goal of mentoring, of developing and growing the next generation. Now to the travel piece, this does mean taking students with me to industry conferences, and giving them the opportunity to network with professionals. Each time I step on a plane with a student, I’m hoping they’ll grow to love this profession of financial planning as much as I do.

But all this travel got me to thinking, what really is mentoring? What is mentoring in higher education? We all have that favorite professor from college, or favorite teacher from high school. But is that mentoring (being the favorite teacher)? Or is it something more?

What is Mentoring?

In my pursuit to discover the core of mentoring, the how to essentially, I read The Heart of Mentoring by David Stoddard. Much of what I’ve learned is from that book, and from my time over the last few years in close relationships to several students.

When I first started working at my university, I participated in a mentoring program for new faculty. We met for a few weeks as a large group, then broke into smaller groups based on positions at the university. While the intent was great, and the facilitators amazing, it lacked what I was looking for. I think for a lot of us, mentoring too often is a rigid program that checks a box or group of boxes for an organization. Instead, mentoring should be about helping someone be all that they can be, about developing people to their highest potential. It should be about meeting each other where they’re at, and focusing on how to become the best version of ourselves.

Now you might be thinking, that’s coaching, right? A coach seeks to improve behaviors, skills, outcomes. Mentoring, instead is “relationship oriented, has a long-term scope, and is holistic, meaning it is broad enough to address facets of the whole person, not just a narrow slice of the individual’s life” (11). Coaching seeks to improve a student’s performance in one aspect of their development (grades, attendance, networking, etc.). While these are important aspects, there’s so much more to the whole person.

(C) 2019, JW Financial Guidance

So when I think of the mentoring and coaching dynamic, I think of coaching and the skills and outcomes involved as the smaller circle in the middle of a larger circle. The larger circle is mentoring. Mentoring requires some coaching, some behavior change, some short-term focus. But as a whole, mentoring seeks to develop the whole person, not just a set of behaviors, over the long-term. Mentoring, for me, is about seeing the whole individual and helping them become entirely the best version of themselves.

How to mentor?

So how do we mentor in higher education? Is it taking students to conferences? Is it staying late after class to answer questions? Is it sending an interesting article, or promising job posting to a student? Yes, all of that.

(C) JW Financial Guidance

Too often in our lives we don’t find passion in our jobs, in our vocation. We might start out passionate about or work, but end up frustrated and tired (83). My goal in mentoring students is to avoid this. I want to ensure that for my students, they find this intersection of passion and vocation. I want to ensure that they see the power their chosen profession has in changing lives. I want them to live at the intersection of a chosen profession of financial planning and a passion to help change lives. I want to see the whole individual and see how I can discover, nurture, and facilitate the intersection of passion and vocation.

But here’s the thing, there’s no secret sauce or magic formula for mentoring. “No matter how uncomfortable you feel about getting started, it will never feel right until you go for it” (192). For me, I’m focusing on giving my time and energy to my students in the form of student groups, innovative classes, experiential learning, and industry exposure. I’m focusing on letting them into my world, being a genuine friend to them. I’m focusing on being steward of their passion, their calling, their desire to change lives through financial planning. I’m focusing on how can I clarify their vocational calling, and align it with their passion to help.

I’m fortunate enough to have found my passion and vocation, and to be in a position to give of myself in this manner.

“The greatest wealth is the ability to give.”

David Stoddard, The Heart of Mentoring, pg 34.

I wanted to share the ten principles from The Heart of Mentoring as a takeaway for this blog. Hopefully you find these as impactful in your work/life as I have.

Ten Powerful Principles For Effective Mentoring
1) Effective mentors understand that living is about giving.
2) Effective mentors see mentoring as a process that requires perseverance.
3) Effective mentors open their world to their mentoring partners.
4) Effective mentors help mentoring partners find their passion.
5) Effective mentors are comforters who share the load.
6) Effective mentors help turn personal values into practice.
7) Effective mentors model character.
8) Effective mentors affirm the value of spirituality.
9) Effective mentors recognize that Mentoring + Reproduction = Legacy.
10) Effective mentors go for it!

Stoddard, David A. (2003). The Heart of Mentoring: Ten Proven Principles for Developing People to their Fullest Potential. NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO.

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