Teacher, teach thy self.
Members of the UI's new faculty mentoring program are taking that phrase to heart.
"We have a huge amount of collective wisdom at this university - why not make it easier to share?" said Mary-Ann Winkelmes, campus coordinator for programs on teaching and learning, and an administrative provost fellow.
Kate Vieira, a professor of English, with faculty-mentor Craig Koslofsky.
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
"Everybody develops and thrives by meeting new people," she said.
Started last fall, the program is still in its infancy. But in just a few months the number of participants has tripled to more than 90.
Organizers are sensing a need, and they hope to expand the mentoring program to any faculty member wishing to participate.
"This program is about getting advice about the things you want advice about," she said. "It's about helping faculty gather the advice they need from a variety of strong mentors."
Winkelmes said the program is different from traditional mentoring efforts because it doesn't tie one mentor to one faculty member seeking guidance. In fact, it's meant to complement those one-on-one pairs that many departments already provide.
Mentor groups are formed to allow those needing help with a variety of issues to access a comparable host of guiding voices.
"We're arranging these groups according to interest," she said. "We're looking for mentors who can offer advice in a variety of areas. No single faculty mentor can provide all of the advice."
Coodinator Mary-Ann Winkelmes said there are hopes the faculty mentoring program will become a permanent university offering: “We’re looking for mentors who can offer advice in a variety of areas.”
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
The number of sub-groups has already grown, offering reflection and direction on everything from academic issues to balancing family life.
"I think experience really counts," said Amy Santos, a special education professor credited with securing a Provost's Initiative on Teaching Advancement grant last year to get the program started.
"Mentors have to have the willingness to talk to people, but more importantly, they have to be able to listen and find out what mentees need," she said. "That takes a lot of skill and one mentor can't meet all of your needs."
Santos said new faculty members need advice the most, but even mid-career faculty members may have questions that have gone unanswered for far too long.
"A lot of it is about advocating for yourself," she said. "What can I say 'no' to? What should I say 'yes' to? Faculty members are given so many tasks it can be overwhelming. It's not something they teach in grad school."
The grant is being used to pay for a part-time graduate assistant who coordinates the process and follows up to chart progress. The grant was extended through the summer by Larry DeBrock, the dean of the College of Business, and there are hopes the mentoring program will become permanent.
"We've gotten a lot of support from the deans," Santos said. "They really see the value in this. It really doesn't take that much time, money or effort to get this accomplished."
The idea for a campuswide faculty mentoring program came through the UI Teaching Academies, and background research was provided by teaching academies in the colleges of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences; Applied Health Sciences; and Liberal Arts and Sciences.
"These colleges sort of banded together and have done actual research on mentoring," Winkelmes said. "They've been looking into this and it's a need that's getting national attention. When you see it in action, it makes perfect sense."
She said the multi-mentor approach is what makes the program work - and there are hopes it will expand quickly because of the variety of advisement opportunities.
"As a mentee, you should be moving from one group to another group," she said. "Your needs are evolving as you move. The groups are fluid and they'll grow according to need."
Santos said the founding members have quickly become excited about the process.
"We've been lucky to find people who have been very open and willing," she said. "The next step is probably to pull together the mentors to better streamline some of the efforts. It's really about being a mentor for people all of the time. We count on that volunteer time here - that's how the university works."
While there are at-large issues that do affect all faculty members, the joy of the multi-group setting means groups can be formed to address more specific issues as well.
For example, the newest mentoring groups are for faculty members looking for feedback on work they are preparing for publication - and its members come from the university's array of academic disciplines.
"Needless to say, the University of Illinois is a pretty complex place," said Craig Koslofsky, a history professor for 13 years and mentor-leader of a new writing group.
He said his experience as a young staffer working with his department's mentoring program was invaluable - and that he still goes to his mentor for advice.
"I feel like my department does it right," he said. "There's a lot for an assistant professor to navigate. You just don't want to re-invent the wheel as you go along. There's so much that's unwritten or in flux."
He said the newness becomes more complicated when a faculty member is on an interdisciplinary tenure track.
He said the time investment is minimal and that the return for himself, the faculty member seeking help and ultimately the university, are huge.
"A mentor is buying into the success of the mentee," he said. "You get the satisfaction of knowing people are getting the right information and the university is functioning the way it's supposed to."
Working with the writing group has given him another level of satisfaction.
"It's been very interesting because you're talking with people who are at the top of their game and the best in the world at what they do," he said "You get to see the latest and most interesting stuff. You're talking with people as a project is developing and you are able to give a little nudge that could lead to something very big."
All faculty members and instructors with a doctoral degree at the UI can join a mentoring group by indicating their interests in an online survey.