October 27, 2003

Mentoring takes off for faculty

By Michael Terrazas

When the Board of Trustees’ (BOT) Academic Affairs Committee invited newly tenured and promoted faculty members to the annual reception honoring their promotion on Oct. 8, the committee extended a second invitation: It asked the professors to invite a mentor who’d helped them along in their careers.

Twenty-eight faculty responded to that gesture and invited senior faculty who, though not necessarily in a formal way, provided them guidance. Trustee Chilton Varner, who chairs the Academic Affairs Committee, said the twist to the reception was just the latest in a string of new mentoring opportunities that have come to Emory in recent years.

"It’s a great demonstration of one of the values of tenure, which is that it allows people with greater experience who’ve been at Emory longer to foster excellence in younger people coming up the ladder," Varner said of the reception. "The faculty thought it was a great idea, and most saw it as a way they could thank people who had fostered their own intellectual excellence and success."

Varner said her BOT committee talks about mentoring as a natural product of Emory’s growth as an institution; as a university grows in size, mentoring relationships become more relevant, not just at Emory but anywhere, she said, adding that the committee is supportive of any effort that celebrates and improves the availability of mentoring.

Perhaps the best known of Emory’s formal mentoring programs is the provost’s office’s Passages, now in its fifth year of matching younger and more senior women faculty from the same schools but different departments. Launched through the President’s Commission on the Status of Women during the 1999–2000 academic year, Passages has fostered some 75 mentoring partnerships.

"As junior faculty come into a new position at a new institution, they’re looking for quality guidance to help understand this new place and what it takes to succeed," said Kim Loudermilk, director of special academic projects in Emory College. Loudermilk directed Passages for the provost’s office before moving to her new position for 2003–04.

Passages is at least indirectly responsible for other mentoring opportunities such as a new program being launched this year in the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. Though the school has fostered informal mentoring relationships in the past, Professor Marcene Powell and Associate Professor Rose Cannon are directing the first structured effort.

Powell said more than 40 nursing faculty are participating in the program, which at the beginning will focus more on teaching than research. She said the goal is to help junior faculty become comfortable in the classroom by offering help with planning syllabi, activities for the first day of class, lecturing guidance and other pedagogical tips.

"We’re trying to make faculty feel more valued in the teaching environment here," Powell said, adding that the school has developed a comprehensive handbook and a seven-volume series that together provide a wealth of information for nursing’s young professors.

Oxford College also incorporates mentoring into its Teaching Excellence in Scholar-ship program for new faculty.

Passages moved quickly from 10 mentor-mentee pairs in its first year to 15 in its second and 25 in its third and fourth years. Loudermilk said finding young faculty to participate was never a problem; the only challenge was finding enough senior faculty to serve as mentors.

"The benefit is an altruistic one for mentors," she said. "Though I have heard stories from senior faculty about how they learn new and exciting ideas from younger people."

"I took my mentee to lunch at Houston Mill House," said Powell. "We had a discussion about what her goals were, and I came away so enriched by the experience that I couldn’t believe it. What did I get out of it? A lot of joy."