Why I Mentor Essays

Why I Mentor by Betty LaFrance, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Communication
First Recipient of the Exemplary Faculty Mentoring Award, 2022

lafrance.jpgIn 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama started a leadership and mentoring program to, “be a bridge between kids like me and the possibilities that can propel them to greatness.”1 This idea brings into sharp focus the meaningfulness of having a support system that reinforces and confirms interpersonal interactions as people experience them. As such, the mentor-as-bridge model highlights the interconnectedness of the importance of representative identity, a proactive commitment to empathizing and assisting other people in attaining their goals, and an understanding that the metaphoric bridge often spans across turbulent or hostile terrain. For me, this model of mentorship is crucial in all spaces but especially in institutions of social power such as in academe.

As the inaugural recipient of the Exemplary Faculty Mentoring award, I have been a fortunate and thankful beneficiary of having many bridges. The building block of such support is centralizing confirming messages that acknowledge personal experiences and challenge ways of moving through those experiences. Across time and institutions, my colleagues have provided me with their strong communicative support. As one colleague noted, I was not broken in terms of my perceptions of the professional landscape we both were traveling—muddling—through. Equally as important, I have had colleagues challenge me to think creatively, empathetically, and wholistically about the methods of planting seeds along those travels.

It is because of the centrality of this communicative support that I have tried with best intentions to provide others with confirming messages that acknowledge colleagues’ experiences and offer unique ways for besting challenges. Most importantly, explicitly stating that they are not broke but instead that their perceptions are valid, meaningful, and have significant consequence is what I hope to offer as a bridge.

1Henderson, N. (2009, November 2). Michelle launches mentoring program. Politico. https://www.politico.com/story/2009/11/michelle-launches-mentoring-program-029042

Why I Mentor by Janice D. Hamlet

Faculty mentoring is of the highest importance if a university is going to thrive. A formalized faculty mentoring program communicates to faculty that the university cares about them and is invested in their success. Although I did not have a mentor when I came to NIU, I was fortunate enough to have a mentor through my discipline's national association.

This senior colleague advised me, read my manuscripts and exposed me to different publishing opportunities. She was a sounding board when I needed to vent. She shared in my miseries and my happiness. She had what I refer to as a "mentor's spirit." She was a trusted confidant, an experienced leader, a competent educator, a prolific scholar, a valuable advisor and a treasured friend. I decided if I could be half as good a mentor to others as she had been to me, I would consider myself a good mentor.

I have been involved in mentoring for over two decades now. Some of the mentoring has focused on the challenges of teaching in a diverse classroom. Other mentoring has focused on research activity and producing manuscripts suitable for specific publications. But most of all, my mentoring has focused on helping others survive academia (including working relationships with colleagues, graduate students and administrators and being the "only one who looks like you" in diversity-resistant departments and/or universities).

The experience has been rewarding on so many levels. It is gratifying to know I have helped colleagues and potential colleagues, but I have gained as much in return (e.g., greater confidence in myself, new perspectives on different issues, new skills). This is why I mentor. Mentoring can be a powerful growth experience for both the mentor and mentee. We need mentors. Much more, we need faculty who have a mentor's spirit - an unseen affirming influence and positive energy. Please join me in this quest.

We invite you to share your insights or experiences as a faculty mentor or mentee. Send your narrative (300-350 words) to Janice Hamlet at jhamlet@niu.edu.

Contact Us

Faculty Mentoring Program
Division of Academic Affairs
Altgeld Hall, Room 214
DeKalb, IL 60115


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