• Barb Mayfield

Mentoring Makes a Difference

A mentor is one to help you improve, develop, give training, motivate, coach, and inspire.

Is anyone out there lacking motivation? I for one have noticed that the world seems to be in a major slump. The pandemic has zapped us physically and mentally. What can we do about it?

I propose one solution is mentoring. I believe mentoring can help pull us out of a slump and motivate us to learn, grow, and take positive action, whether we are the mentor or the mentee. Two of the best ways out of a slump are to reach out to someone for encouragement and to encourage and help others. Providing encouragement and motivation are primary functions of a mentoring relationship.

Mentoring is useful even when we’re not in a slump. Mentoring helps a less experienced person gain wisdom from someone more experienced. This could be a young professional with a seasoned professional, a new parent with an experienced parent, or a first year student with an upper level student.

Mentoring is especially helpful in new or unfamiliar situations, or when life-changing decisions need to be made. Mentors provide insights, ask good questions, and help mentees do problem-solving and goal-setting.

Mentoring is beneficial to more than those in the role of mentee. The mentor, the organization, and those served or in contact with all of the above benefit as well. The most often cited benefits of mentoring include:

  • Mentees gaining valuable guidance and support

  • Mentors gaining the satisfaction of contributing to the development of others

  • Organizational environments becoming more inclusive, collaborative, and creative

  • Providing professional development opportunities for both mentees and mentors

  • Building an understanding of organizational structure, culture, and policies

  • Promoting networking and building a stronger network of colleagues

  • Promoting an openness to new approaches to solve problems

  • Providing a confidential sounding board for ideas and challenges

  • Facilitating the growth and development of high-potential leaders

  • Increasing confidence and self-awareness

  • Promoting engagement and retention

A year ago, I reported on a new mentoring program the Purdue University Nutrition Science Alumni Network initiated for undergraduates. In the second year of the program we have expanded to include graduate students and interns in the supervised practice program. Building on feedback from year one, we chose a new model for this year’s program. The first year used the more traditional one-on-one approach. This year we opted for a group model. We placed two to three alumni mentors with small groups of students at the same academic level. With 34 mentors and 50 mentees, this resulted in 14 groups ranging from Freshmen to graduate students in their third year and beyond. Groups will meet virtually approximately once a month throughout the school year.

The group approach has multiple benefits. With fewer mentors than mentees, it allowed for everyone to be matched. When attempting to connect with just one individual there were times in the first year of the program that people dropped out or failed to make contact. With a group approach there will be greater success for at least partial attendance. The group also learns from multiple perspectives, including peer-to-peer as well as mentor to mentee.

Other approaches to mentoring include a mentoring panel or committee, often used for new faculty members, in which several mentors work with one mentee. Another approach is called functional mentoring, which occurs when a mentor is assigned to assist a mentee through a specific task or project. Mentoring can take many forms and can be short term or long term.

Working with a coach or a mentor is one of the ways suggested for nutrition professionals to improve their communication effectiveness. As stated in Chapter 2 of Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide, a potential source of mentors are mentoring programs found in several Dietetics Practice Groups of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

For more on mentoring and coaching, check out this post from 2019: https://www.nutritioncommunicator.com/post/2019/11/08/do-i-need-a-mentor-or-a-coach

Are you in need of advice or encouragement? Who could you ask to be your mentor? Are you knowledgeable in an area that could benefit others? Who could you mentor? Let’s get out of this slump!

Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction. ~ John Crosby

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