Mentoring Can Result in a Lifetime of Reward

Sep 10, 2012

by Mark Crawford ASME.org

Lydia L. Middleton, assistant director for the Office of New Student Programs at the University of Michigan, defines mentoring as a voluntary, intentional relationship that benefits both the mentor and those being mentored.

“Relationships can be formal or informal, happen organically, or be part of a larger program or institution, and involve sharing advice, life experiences, resources, knowledge—any tools or personal experiences that the mentor has learned and is willing to share,” she says.

“Mentoring also involves getting to know the mentee, his/her background, strengths and weaknesses, and career goals,” adds Shaik Jeelani, vice president of research and sponsored programs at Tuskegee University in Alabama and recipient of thePresidential Award for Mentoring from the White House in 2011. “Mentoring is not teaching—it’s about understanding the issues and offering the best possible advice.”

Good mentoring relationships can conceivably last a lifetime, sometimes sparked by a single conversation. Mentoring doesn’t just happen between a professor and a student, it can occur between people at any stage of their academic and/or professional careers. This would include “undergraduates and graduate students, students of any level with alumni/professionals, young professionals with more seasoned employees, even between seasoned employees and more senior executives or organizational leaders,” says Jamie Grant, associate director of career services for the School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Benefits Abound

Mentoring allows employees to develop leadership skills, which can impact future success with their organizations, as well as model behaviors that are compatible with the company’s mission. As a result mentoring is beneficial for the company, the mentors, and the mentees who are receiving guidance and support.

“Mentoring also helps mentors work on their social and communication skills,” states Sapna Protheroe, program and development manager at MentorNet.net, an e-mentoring site for engineers. “Companies that have mentorship programs can also recruit top talent, since many mentees end up working at their mentors’ companies.”

In addition to making employees more productive, a well-developed mentoring programmay also attract and retain (newer) employees by demonstrating the company’s interest and investment in their professional and personal development.

Being a Good Mentor

Mentoring can be immensely rewarding for both mentor and mentee, providing many opportunities to learn from and share with each other, gain new insights, and discuss experiences that enrich each person’s perspective moving forward.

Good mentors are patient, diligent, enthusiastic, and truly want to help others.

“They have an intrinsic interest in celebrating another’s learning, development, and success,” says Grant. “A mentor must also of course have excellent reflective and engaged listening skills. He or she must be objective and have an understanding of the confidential nature of the relationship, so that a relationship based on mutual respect and trust can be created and maintained.”

Mentoring is also a good way to stay in touch with other engineers.

“Engineering can be a challenging and often isolating field,” says Middleton. “Mentoring helps make large, complex problems more manageable, and it’s always great to be able to get advice from someone who’s been there. For engineers, it’s a great way to become more comfortable in social situations, especially if much of your work is done independently. It also helps develop positive behaviors that get noticed by supervisors and directors. I would encourage engineers to consider asking their companies or HR reps if mentoring can be made a part of the training process.”

“It's our obligation to groom young engineers and scientists, states Jeelani. “We must guide them to adopt best practices and maintain high standards of professional ethics.”

Protheroe agrees.

“I think every engineer should volunteer to be a mentor,” she adds. “There are many students, including minority students and women, who are struggling to get into the STEM fields. They need someone to guide them.”

Mark Crawford is an independent writer.

It's our obligation to mentor young engineers and scientists—we must guide them to adopt best practices and maintain high standards of professional ethics.Shaik Jeelani, VP, research and sponsored programs, Tuskegee University in Alabama