Allison McWilliams is assistant vice president, mentoring and alumni personal & career development. She writes occasional articles for Inside WFU. This is her second for the spring semester. In each, she shares observations and suggestions with faculty and staff from her professional experiences with students.
“Find out who you are. And, do it on purpose.” Dolly Parton.
Whenever I am meeting with students and young alumni, there are four key questions that frame our conversations:
- How are you being intentional with the choices and decisions that you are making?
- How are you setting goals and taking actions to pursue them?
- How are you seeking out feedback from mentors and wise counselors on your choices, decisions, and goals?
- And, how are you intentionally reflecting on what you are learning?
These four questions are the critical elements of any effective mentoring conversation and the process of moving from adolescence to adulthood. As such, I would like to unpack each of these four elements so that you, too, can think about how to help your students to own their growth and development for what comes next, for them.
The first piece is all about intentionality. We each have a choice as we move through our lives: show up and be present, or sleepwalk through and wonder how and why we ended up where we do. Being intentional means showing up and recognizing that every single choice that we make has an impact on what comes next. As a student, this means thinking critically about one’s course of study and major selection, extracurricular activities, internships and research projects, study abroad and part-time jobs, and with whom one chooses to spend one’s time. Each represents a choice that is dictated by available resources, future aspirations, and values. And at the same time, each of those decisions will reveal a bit about priorities, future aspirations, and values.
Most of our students arrive at Wake Forest with their lives completely scripted for them. But this won’t always be the case. An important part of their experience here with us is learning the decision-making tools and strategies that will serve them after they leave here, as adults in the world. We can help them with this process by asking those thought-provoking questions that start with why, what, and how: Why are you making this choice? What are the resources that you will need to make it happen? What will this decision allow you to do/prevent you from doing? How does this decision align with who you are? Each of these questions pushes the student to reflect on and take ownership for the choices they are making.
In the next piece I will talk about the second element, setting goals and taking action towards achieving them.
Allison McWilliams is assistant vice president, mentoring and alumni personal & career development. She writes occasional articles for Inside WFU. This is the fourth for the spring semester. In each she shares observations and suggestions with faculty and staff from her professional experiences with students.
You know that old Billy Joel song, “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”? It’s an upbeat, catchy tune, but if you really listen to the lyrics and the message, somewhat depressing. It’s all about the reconciliation of the effort required to “make it,” to acquire a bit of the American dream, and whether that effort is worth it.
Joel’s song is about 1970’s working class New Yorkers, but in some ways I think it speaks directly to the concerns and challenges facing today’s young adults. In so many ways our students are amazingly ill-prepared for the realities of what awaits them beyond graduation. What does it take to be an effective employee? How do you build a successful life? What am I willing and able to trade off in order to “make it,” and who gets to define this for me?
These are great conversations for any mentoring relationship, and especially with those seniors who are soon to leave the safety and security of Wake Forest for the great unknown beyond these walls. There, they will need to be able to seek out their own support systems, find their own mentors, and navigate effectively through professional and personal challenges and opportunities they can only imagine right now.
One of the hallmarks of this current generation that is so incredible is their willingness to and interest in being deeply reflective. We know that this generation largely is driven by the desire for a connection to a purpose greater than they are, and this drive encourages them to look for something deeper than just work for work’s sake. They want to know that they are making a difference, that they can make a difference. They just don’t necessarily know how to define that, or how to go about making that happen.
As mentors, we can all support our students in these final weeks of school by asking them questions of values and beliefs, and helping them to connect their answers to what is to come. What drives you? What gets you out of bed in the morning excited about the day? What are your strengths and interests? How does what you’re going to do next help you to use those strengths and interests? Help them to find deeper meaning and purpose in their time here, so that they are able to live lives of meaning and purpose when they get there.
Categories: Inside WFU
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Categories: Inside WFU
Allison McWilliams is assistant vice president, mentoring and alumni personal & career development. She writes occasional articles for Inside WFU. This is the second for the spring semester. In each she shares observations and suggestions with faculty and staff from her professional experiences with students.
“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great!” This classic line delivered by Tom Hanks in the movie A League of Their Own can be (and has been) applied to any number of situations. And it’s a great description of the particular skills and abilities required to participate in any effective mentoring relationship. Many organizations presume that a mentoring program will be the cure to any and all ills, only to discover that a poorly-planned and ineffectively-executed program does more harm than good. Many people think that they can be great mentors, only to discover that they lack the commitment, time, or experience to do the work.
The good news is, the skills required to do mentoring well can be learned, practiced, and developed. And that goes for mentees, as well. None of us are perfect when it comes to mentoring. The very essence of mentoring relationships is that they are learning-oriented, and that means that we all are constantly developing our skills. Every relationship provides an opportunity to learn, to seek out feedback, and to reflect on opportunities for growth.
As mentors, one of our responsibilities is to help our students to grow in their self-awareness and ability to seek out and engage in productive relationships by scaffolding these skills. What does that mean? Just like in the classroom, each relationship, each mentoring conversation is an opportunity to build upon the learning that has happened previously, so that there is a trajectory of growth from the beginning of the relationship to the end, and from the beginning of a student’s time here until and beyond the time that he or she graduates.
The good news is, the skills required for effective mentors and mentees aren’t complex. We have created a set of mentoring learning outcomes for both mentors and mentees, as well as a set of self-evaluations, which can serve as a guide to that learning and growth. The skills aren’t complex, but that doesn’t mean they are easy. But mentoring shouldn’t be easy. After all, if it was easy, everyone would do it, and do it well. But the hard is what makes effective mentoring truly great.
Allison McWillliams is assistant vice president, mentoring and alumni personal & career development. She writes occasional articles for Inside WFU. This is the first for the spring semester. In each, she shares observations and suggestions with faculty and staff from her professional experiences with students.
Mentoring typically is conceived of as a one-to-one relationship. Historically, mentoring relationships developed from the master-apprentice model to the manager-protégé model; in both, potential successors are chosen or “anointed” and provided with all of the tools, knowledge, and skills that they need to eventually replace the master or manager mentor. In this traditional view, the mentor is the expert, the source of all wisdom and experience, and the mentee or protégé is a blank slate, an empty vessel just waiting to be filled up with all of that knowledge and experience.
We no longer think of mentoring in these terms. First, this outdated, paternalistic view of mentoring assumes that mentees have no prior experience, histories, or knowledge. Second, this version of mentoring puts considerable pressure on the mentor to be the “be-all, end-all” person for his or her mentee. And third, due to the inherent power dynamics in any mentoring relationship, it provides no opportunity for mentees to seek out additional counsel and wisdom that can mitigate those dynamics.
Today we must encourage and help students to build mentoring networks that include multiple people who can support and encourage them as they pursue their individual paths. An effective network of mentors, wise counselors, sponsors, advisors, coaches, and accountability partners helps to broaden students’ perspectives, diversify the voices that are speaking into their lives, increase their access to opportunities, and encourage deeper reflection and learning. And it lessens the burden on any one person to serve as that all-consuming mentor.
Research on strong and weak ties dates back to the early 1970s. Strong ties, the people who know you the best, are key elements of an effective support system. These people are most like you, share your values and worldview, and often have blinders on when it comes to providing objective, impactful feedback. Weak ties go broad but not deep. They know you well enough to support your growth, but they aren’t necessarily your close friends and family.
A great network contains both strong and weak ties. Help your students build their networks by asking them to do a simple network-mapping activity. Who is in their network, currently, and where are there gaps? How can they use the people in their network to create new, broader connections? Encourage them to begin to grow their networks, now, to impact short and long-term learning and growth.