Wednesday, November 2, 2011

mentors: simply defined

Earlier this week, I challenged the uncollege student (and others looking to "stop" or "drop" out of school) to think about how they will create an environment that fosters intellectual discourse and innovation. And one of my suggestions (though not explicit) was to identify and connect with mentors. So that brings up the question - what is a mentor?

Coffee in the morning
Photo by chichacha
A mentor is defined as "a wise and trusted counselor or teacher" or "an influential senior sponsor or supporter." And it would seem that the college environment is a natural place to find such a person. But even students actively engaged in pursuing a degree (undergraduate or otherwise) struggle to identify and connect with mentors. 

The first thing I would say is, if you have to ask someone to be your mentor - you're already heading in the wrong direction. The mentor/mentee relationship should be organic. It is through mutual trust and understanding that such a relationship develops and thrives. I think back to my own undergraduate career and my first academic mentor; a professional actor who taught theater courses as an adjunct professor at the University of Utah. He was (and is) a smart, creative, and compassionate man who embraced teaching with the same degree of passion that he embraced life. I never left his classroom uninspired. But in all the years I studied, I never once asked him to be my mentor. That said, he was almost always the first person I turned to for academic support and guidance.

I am shocked with how many college students approach the end of their college career with no one they can confidently turn to for advising and letters of recommendation. These are students who showed up, did their work, but never took an active role in their own learning.

Everyone needs a support group, a sounding board, someone (really someones) who has been down this road before, to help lead the way. Who is that for you? 

If you're in school: whose office hours can your visit? From whom have you taken a class, that you can study with again? Alternatively, if you're a young professional or trying to create an independent learning experience, who can you call today and invite to join you for a cup of coffee? Who's advice has been sound? Who's doing what you'd like to do a year, five years, ten years from now?

Over the next week, I will offer you up a set of tools and exercises to help you identify and connect with mentors. Read. Follow. Comment. Share.