Allison McWilliams: Mentoring and well-being

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 fifth for the academic year.  In each, she shares observations and suggestions with faculty and staff drawn from her professional experience with students.

20111010mcwilliams4344Earlier this year a study out of Gallup gained quite a bit of attention. In a survey of more than 30,000 college student graduates, the researchers found six key elements which, if present during college, were linked to long-term success in work and life:

  • having an internship or job to apply classroom learning
  • being actively involved in extracurricular activities and organizations
  • working on projects that took a semester or more to complete
  • feeling that they had a professor who made them excited about learning
  • feeling that professors cared about them as a person
  • feeling that they had a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams

Further, the study found that if participants strongly agreed with the last three items in this list, it doubled the odds that those individuals are engaged in work and thriving in overall well-being. And, of the study’s participants, only 14 percent strongly agreed that they experienced all three of these items while in college. Why is this important? It is a demonstrated, direct link between the work that effective mentors do, in college, and long-term outcomes after college.

This is, we know, a stressful time of year for our students. Final exams, final grades, saying goodbye to friends for the winter holiday (or for some, for longer, if they are studying abroad), thinking about going home and fitting back in with friends and family, thinking about what happens after the break; all of these and more are cause for significant stress.

This is a great opportunity to check in with your students and to demonstrate to them that you are concerned about their well-being, both now and in the future. Here are four simple actions you can take:

  1. Ask powerful questions. Asking open-ended questions lead to deeper conversations about the student’s lived experience both now and in the future.
  2. Check in on goals. Hold the student accountable for his progress towards the goals that he set for this semester. What has he learned about himself? How will he use that knowledge next semester?
  3. Listen and affirm. Pay attention to the cues that he may be struggling at this time. Affirm that his experience is normal, and help him to find strategies that he can use to successfully move through it.
  4. Encourage and connect. Make sure that he is making full use of the resources that are available on this campus to support his mental, physical, and emotional well-being.

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