Allison McWilliams: Setting goals for growth and development

Allison McWilliams, director of mentoring and alumni personal and career development in the Office of Personal and Career Development, will write occasional articles in 2015-2016 for Inside WFU.  This is her second for the academic year.  In each, she shares observations and suggestions with faculty and staff drawn from her professional experience with students.

Allison McWilliams, the Director of Career Education in the Wake Forest Office of Personal and Career Development on Monday, October 10, 2011.

The transition from high school to college to after-college is also a transition from adolescence to adulthood. This is a key formative time in a young person’s life, when one discovers and explores personal beliefs, interests, values, strengths, and goals. Author and professor Jeffrey Arnett has coined the term “emerging adulthood” to describe this transitional phase of life. Mentors play an important role by helping students learn the tools and skills necessary to set goals, make decisions, and solve problems, and process what they are learning about themselves along the way.


 Effective mentoring conversations are goal-driven conversations. They are based on social psychologist David Kolb’s experiential learning model: first, the mentee identifies a challenge, a problem, or a decision to be addressed; second, working with the mentor, the mentee sets some concrete goals to pursue; third, she takes action towards accomplishing her goals; and fourth, and most importantly, she reflects on the lessons learned and how to apply those lessons in the future. The mentor’s role in this process is not to tell the mentee what her goal should be, or how to pursue it. Rather, the mentor is there to offer wise counsel and feedback, to challenge the mentee on her assumptions, and to be an accountability partner.

Setting goals for growth and development is a valuable skill that students will take with them beyond Wake Forest into graduate school, the workforce, and their lives. It is also one that most undergraduates have not had to acquire up to this point. Encourage students to use the SMART goal model:

Specific – the goal statement should be concrete and start with an action verb.

Measurable – how will you know when you have achieved it?

Achievable – the goal should require work, but be attainable.

Realistic – do you have the ability, commitment, and resources to reach the goal?

Timely – when, specifically, will you achieve the goal?

 As John Maxwell noted in his book, Mentoring 101 (2008), “the greatest achievers in life are people who set goals for themselves and then work hard to reach them. What they get by reaching the goals is not nearly as important as what they become by reaching them.”

Look for opportunities where you can encourage your students to set some concrete, achievable goals for this semester. And as you do, know that you are helping them learn some important lessons on their way from adolescence to adulthood.