Emory Report

Mar. 29, 1999

 Volume 51, No. 25

First person:

New PCSW pilot program targets junior women faculty

Emory will have its first-ever structured mentoring program for junior women faculty in the 1999-2000 academic year. President Bill Chace and Provost Rebecca Chopp have approved the pilot program, which will bring 10 pairs of junior and senior faculty women together. The major goal of the project, called Passages (Faculty Mentoring Faculty at Emory), is to help junior faculty women build the foundations for long and productive academic careers at the University. The program's design has been this year's agenda for the Faculty Concerns Committee (FCC) of the President's Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW).

That's the news, simply put. But as any reporter can tell you, the news is not always the same as the story. As co-chair of the Faculty Concerns Committee, I think the story is why, out of all the issues confronting women faculty at Emory, the FCC chose the creation of a formal mentoring program as its top priority this year. After all, the committee routinely has dealt with "big ticket" items in the past: family leave, the tenure clock, child care, sexual harassment. Mentoring happens "naturally," right? Why make a big deal out of it? Why make it a program at all?

It turns out that the story behind our choice of mentoring as an FCC project--our decision to make it a big deal--is made up of a lot of other stories: stories told by the members of our committee, who represent all areas of the University; stories told by the women we work with on other committees and in our own departments; even stories told by women we may see just once a year at faculty teas. Almost every woman faculty member we knew, it seemed, had a story about our passage through the academic ranks. It wasn't long before we noticed that the talk kept coming back to mentors: which of us had had one, which of us hadn't and what difference we thought it had made, either way.

We talked about not always knowing where to go for information, even at times of being afraid to ask. We talked about how isolating the years before tenure were, and how much it helped when someone stepped in to suggest a new direction, or revealed a sacred rule that (surprise!) didn't happen to be written down. Sometimes we laughed (one of us regards an 8-year-old boy with a fistful of spiders as her first true mentor); other times we simply shook our heads. But enough of those stories, and the committee's discussions began to shift from the past to the present: What could we do now, we asked? How could we build partnerships between senior and junior women that would help the newest members of the University faculty help themselves?

And the more we talked, the more we saw mentoring as a large issue in its own right. It wasn't a matter of helping a few junior women faculty succeed, as important as that would be. It was about acknowledging, as a University, that the success of junior women faculty--as researchers, as teachers, as role models--will contribute to Emory's excellence-and that senior women faculty who are already here, already contributing, have a wealth of experience and knowledge to share. It was about starting to change the climate for women, one umbrella at a time.

There was always one more story to share, but we began to read studies too, lots of studies, from universities much like Emory. We saw that structured mentoring programs are successful in retention and academic success of young women faculty. And we read other studies that concluded that young male faculty may already have more access to career advice than new women faculty. For that reason, the 10 pairs in the pilot program will be women, but we hope that a successful first year will lead to including men as both mentors and mentees in the future. We also hope the program can expand to include mentoring for non-tenure track faculty. A university is a place, after all, committed to the principle that all of us have something to teach each other.

The pilot program design asks each pair to agree on a written plan to help the junior colleague plan for a successful, and satisfying, academic career. The details will be up to each pair, but some topics that might be addressed include: 1) setting priorities and using time productively; 2) developing networks for scholarship, both inside and outside the relevant department; 3) interacting with senior colleagues; 4) "quick starting" the tenure process, including a plan for production of scholarship and record keeping in preparation of tenure and promotion files; and 5) identifying research funds, conferences and collaborations to enhance visibility. The senior faculty member in each pair will come from the junior member's broad academic area (for example, humanities, the sciences or the professions) but not from the same department.

Each mentee will be encouraged to create a kind of personal "advisory board" beyond her assigned mentor. For example, she might seek out one person for questions about conferences, another for publishing information, still another for reassurance that even good teachers can have bad days in the classroom. Such an "advisory board" (which may include senior male faculty, even in the program's pilot year) can serve as an invaluable network of advisors (and supporters) in the academic community. And the process of assembling such a network is, of course, a learning process, teaching skills that can be used throughout an academic career.

This spring, the process of recruiting, selecting and pairing the senior and junior women faculty for the pilot program will begin. A kick-off event in fall 1999 will bring pairs together at a workshop run by Paula Washington, an Emory PhD in women's studies. Her Atlanta company, the Womentoring Group, designs mentoring programs for corporate and academic settings.

Department chairs and program directors, senior women faculty, entering junior faculty, and junior faculty in years two and three on the tenure track will receive letters from the provost's office and the PCSW outlining the opportunities the pilot project represents. A form for applying to be a mentor or mentee (and for nominating someone--with their permission--in either category) will be included. Anyone interested in participating may receive more information now by contacting me, Lynna Williams, Co-Chair, Faculty Concerns Committee, English Department, 302 Calloway North Building. (Phone: 404-727-7999; e-mail: <lwill03@ emory.edu>).

I'm tempted to end with a story about my first mentor who, on my very first day as a kid newspaper reporter, taught me how to get bloodstains out of polyester. But instead I'll simply thank the project's key supporters: President Chace, Provost Chopp and PCSW co-chair Mary DeLong. The members of the FCC who designed the project are co-chair Kay Vydareny, associate professor of radiology at Emory Hospital; Carol Burns, director of the health sciences center library; Polly Price, associate professor in the law school; and Maureen St. Laurent, assistant professor of English at Oxford.

They're already mentors, every one of them; Kay Vydareny, in fact, is the woman who realized our original project name, as an acronym, could be read "Small Wife." After that, Passages (Faculty Mentoring Faculty at Emory) seemed like a fine name to us, but we didn't talk about it for long--there was still one more story to tell about that kid with the spiders.

Lynna Williams, an associate professor, is director of Creative Writing.

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