Mentoring provided me with the opportunity to reflect on my own CO-OP experiences, including the application and interview processes, so hopefully not only have I helped others, but it will help me in my own placement search. CO-OP Mentor 2006
What I have liked most so far is being able to share my concerns with a fellow student, someone who is my equal, no pressure involved. CO-OP Protégé 2006
Mentorship has a long established history as a means for personal and professional development. To be sure, mentorship enables individuals to learn from those that have travelled the road ahead and returned to tell the tale. While a relationship between a mentor and a protégé may be created informally within higher education, mentorship tends to come out of formal mentorship programs where the protégé is paired with a mentor from the same faculty, or the protégé visits a mentor-on-duty during their open office hours.
CO-OP students are unique from other students on a number of levels and consequently may require a mentor program to meet their unique needs. Some of the more noteworthy differences come from the challenges associated with securing a work term, finding success on the job, and writing the work-term report. If a mentorship program is designed to pair protégés with mentors, then an effective pairing requires a mentor who not only comes from the same program or faculty but has personally lived the CO-OP experience.
Another distinguishing feature of co-operative education students is that many alternate between work and study terms. As such, a program that only offers mentorship on campus may not provide CO-OP students with the full gamut of support required. Questions that could go unanswered include anything from the first day on the job, to goal setting, to office politics, to evaluations, and so on.
Although successful CO-OP mentorship programs may be designed in a number of ways, the establishment of an e-mentorship program where senior CO-OP students are paired with first year CO-OP students may be an effective design solution. While there are challenges with this type of program design, with care, it can effectively meet the needs of co-operative education students whether on campus or off.
E-mentorship is similar to regular mentorship. The difference is that rather than meetings face-to-face, communication primarily takes place over electronic media such as e-mail, chat and online discussion boards. When designing an e-mentorship program where mentors are paired with protégés, many of the same principles must be taken into consideration as with a face-to-face mentorship program. Similarities include recruiting mentors that are committed to helping others, marketing the program effectively to potential protégés, enabling pairings that are a good fit based on the protégé’s criteria, and following up regularly with each party to provide support, feedback, and intervention as required.
Tips for E-Mentorship Program Development
The differences between a regular mentorship program and an e-mentorship program are obvious but the impact is subtle. Obviously, an e-mentorship program means that communication takes place virtually; the impact is that communication requires greater care and greater frequency. Some tips for developing an e-mentorship program are listed below:
- Rather than recruiting mentors that are “perfect CO-OP students”, recruit those that have excellent communication skills and are highly proactive
- Provide training to mentors that includes not only topics specific to mentorship but also specific to netiquette
- Require at least one face-to-face meeting between the mentors and their protégés, ideally at the onset of the mentoring relationship, in order that they may establish rapport
- Encourage a high rate of communication, upwards of one e-mail or chat conversation per week, as frequency of communication impacts protégés’ perception of the mentoring relationship
Creating a mentorship program is worthwhile on a number of levels. In terms of the co-operative education programs, it sends a strong message that there is a commitment to student success. For mentors, it provides a chance to share experiences and give back to their community. For protégés, it is an opportunity to learn from those that have made the journey and gained insight along the way. With e-mentorship, this journey need not stop at the edge of campus but rather, it may extend out into the world of work and back again.
Jeela Jones designed and co-ordinates the University of Ottawa Co-operative Education E-mentorship Program. For more on this or other adult education principles and practices, please feel free to contact her at Jeela.Jones@uOttawa.ca or 613 562-5800 extension 6884.