As we have recently entered the new fall semester here at Waubonsee Community College, I spent some time reflecting on my initial experience as a member of the faculty at the college. I was hired in the summer of 2003 to begin teaching full-time in the psychology department. Although I had taught as an adjunct member of the faculty for the previous two years, I felt anxiety as I transitioned into a new chapter in my career. I had spent the previous fifteen years of my life in the workforce in various positions as a counselor or therapist. However, this position at Waubonsee was a significant departure for me. Apprehension began to creep in and cause anxiety and some sleepless nights as the fall semester approached. Had I made the right decision in changing careers? Would I be happy with the decision?
My first day of faculty orientation was a blur. Lots of meetings. Dozens of new people to meet. Trying to navigate the written policies and procedures of the college, as well as picking up on the unwritten expectations that went with the new job. It was all very overwhelming. At this time, one of the best experiences for my career occurred. I had the chance to sit down and talk with the senior member of the Psychology Department. He told me that things would be fine and that the college and the department had confidence in my abilities to excel at the job. Additionally, he took me under his wing for the next two years and assisted me in navigating the expectations of the job and preparing me for the tenure process. Without his guidance and support, the early years of my career at the college would have been an even more nerve-racking experience.
Why bring up my recollections of anxiety from years ago? It is related to a passion that I have at this time in my career. I feel very strongly about the concept of mentoring and the need to develop and foster opportunities for mentoring. A mentor is usually seen as someone who acts as an advisor or guide to a younger or less experienced individual in the workforce. Therefore, mentoring is the act of having a more seasoned or knowledgeable individual assist and support a new or inexperienced individual to absorb the norms and expectation of an organization, as well as to acclimate in this situation.
These types of scenarios have been present in the employment world for decades. Examples might be such experiences as internships and preceptors. However, what tends to separate the mentoring experience from these other examples is that the mentoring construct tends to be a more informal experience. It also allows for the creation and maintenance of a safe place for open discussion, constructive feedback, and criticism. This is a stark contrast from the fairly rigid and conventional requirements of the precepting or internship experience.
There are benefits for both individuals in the mentoring relationship. For the mentor, one of the benefits is to establish a sense of generativity. This involves finding meaning in one’s life through the act of contributing to society and leaving a legacy for future generations. By establishing this ability to contribute, there is a decreased likelihood of the individual to feel alienated, become jaded in the workplace, or to develop burnout. For the mentee, a benefit is the opportunity to be given a voice that is valued. This, in turn, tends to lead to the opportunity to become an agent of change in the workforce. This relationship has also been shown to allow the new member of the workforce to develop more intimacy-based relationships.
With these potential benefits available to both individuals in the relationship, I believe that there appears to be a vital need for communities to establish and nurture opportunities to create mentoring relationships. I believe that there is a unique opening for the community college to partner with its neighboring community and workforce to create valuable connections for its residents.
• Scott Hollenback is a Professor of Psychology at Waubonsee Community College.