Q & A

Having a clear mentoring agreement . . . makes sure that everybody's on the same page, and that there aren't expectations that can't be met.

Kim Loudermilk

Senior Lecturer in the Institute of the Liberal Arts and Director of the Program in American Studies, former director of the Passages mentoring program 

Kim LoudermilkOffered under the auspices of the Office of the Provost, Passages was a structured mentoring program begun in 1999 that served only women until 2002. The group ceased operations after 2004 due to a number of factors, including a lack of leadership and increasing mentor burnout. Kim Loudermilk directed the program from 2000 to 2003.

The Academic Exchange: Can you generally describe Passages? 

Kim Loudermilk: Passages began as a structured mentoring program for women faculty at Emory. It grew out of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW). The Faculty Concerns Committee of the Commission had been talking about mentoring, and people felt that mentoring was very hit-or-miss for them, particularly when they were junior faculty members. So that committee decided to put together a structured mentoring program for women. They felt that men got better mentoring on their own, through networking, because of the fact that there were so many more male faculty members than female faculty members, particularly in 1999. They felt there was a particular need for mentoring for women for a variety of reasons. 

It was successfully piloted in 1999 under the auspices of the PCSW. In 2000, the program was moved to the Office of the Provost, and I was hired, at least in part, to be its director. The idea was that junior women who wanted to be paired with a mentor would complete an application to the Passages program and send it to me. I would then send out a call for mentors and ask people—women—who were willing to be mentors to tell me what their strengths were. We purposely paired junior faculty with senior women who were not in their department or program but who were in the same school. We wanted women to be feel free to talk about all of the problems they might be facing, including departmental problems, but we wanted them to be in the same school because the tenure and promotion guidelines for different schools are slightly different. Both mentors and mentees had to fill out a mentoring contract. The expectations were really clear up-front. 

The goal was to help junior women take the initiative to establish themselves as faculty members deserving of tenure and promotion. The thought was that not enough women were getting tenured at Emory, and the goal of this program was to help more of the junior women we brought in achieve tenure. 

AE: If someone were to start a mentoring group at Emory, what is one piece of advice you would give him or her? 

KL: If it’s going to be really a structured program, then I think having a clear mentoring agreement is really important. It makes sure that everybody’s on the same page, and that there aren’t expectations that can’t be met. It also gives people a sense of comfort to know that there’s an end date, that you can say, “Okay, I’m done.” It was my experience that most people didn’t say that, that in fact, these relationships continued throughout years, and I’m guessing there are many of them that are still continuing, but you knew that [if needed] you could step back, because you knew you had agreed to do it for this particular amount of time.

AE: What do you see as Emory’s greatest strengths and weaknesses with regards to faculty mentoring? 

KL: One of Emory’s strengths is that faculty here are basically friendly and helpful, so finding a network of folks to form a mentoring relationship with is relatively easy. A weakness is that, to my knowledge, we don’t have a really great structured mentoring program. There’s something of an attitude—I would say this is widespread: “Why should people need mentors? We’re all sort of independent, and we work on our own.” I think that’s not just an Emory problem; I think that’s an academia problem.

AE: Do you have any ideas for faculty mentoring programs you would like to see at Emory today?

KL: I would like to see a program for lecture-track faculty. All of the programs I’ve seen here at Emory have been for people on the tenure track, and I would like to see something for people who are not on the tenure track. Emory has been at the forefront of thinking about non-tenure-track faculty as professionals who do real and important work for the university, and I think that having some kind of program that was specifically directed at lecture-track faculty would take that to the next step.