Last year, when I began a second year as Co-op Mentor Centre Coordinator, I identified an element to be missing and that was the potential of having the program be more student-led.
I believe that individuals who have ‘lived’ an experience often know what will work best with those following in their footsteps. Comprised of students who have completed at least one work term, Co-op Mentors have experience as participants, whereas I did not. It was this premise that led me to move to a more student-led rather than staff-led mentorship program. In so doing, the benefits became clear.
Motivation and Creative Potential
By providing this simple framework, the group was able to quickly identify ways of adding to and improving the existing program. By encouraging the students to share what they thought would be helpful, they were able to unleash great creative potential thus contributing significantly to the existing structure of the program.
Seeing the students’ interest, enthusiasm and commitment, it was easy to trust them to identify new resources and services to better support student mentees - things I would not be able to identify as easily, having not been a direct participant in the program myself.
Teamwork: Sharing and Contributing
By creating small committees using a volunteer based approach for each project or task, networking, accountability and team spirit were quickly and naturally developed. Contact coordinates were exchanged and small group work began in earnest. So great was the motivation that all small group work was entirely complete by the next meeting. Trust and companionship developed much more quickly than in previous years between mentors and attendance and participation in monthly meetings and events also increased.
Both large and small communities were formed: the large being the whole of the program and the small being the working committees. The elements of community: cooperation, respect, unity in both focus and in goals, combined effort, along with a potential for greater relationship all intertwined to give rise to an enhanced learning and working environment for all.
By involving mentors in the on-going development of the program, by inviting them to provide their input and ideas to the training sessions for new mentors and by having them participate in student mentee recruitment through direct word-of-mouth promotion at workshops and information sessions, the program has developed a higher degree of credibility. When would-be student mentees are able to hear directly from mentors what they can expect from the program, interest is seen to be generated at a higher level.
Showing mentors how much they are appreciated, both in their dedication to the development of the program, in their on-going involvement, and especially in their commitment to helping their student mentees, is key to maintaining a high quality relationship. When they offer ideas, they need to be heard. Capturing their ideas and implementing them is essential. Through offerings of networking/support meetings (with delicious food!), various as-requested professional and personal development training, year-end celebrations as well as tokens of appreciation along the way all work toward this end.
Onto the Future
“Student leadership expands and evolves the Co-op Mentorship Program. By working together, the Mentors transformed the program to attract more students. In making these changes, we and future years of Mentors will reach out to more Co-op students, guiding them through the co-op experience. Including Mentors in the decision making process increases student involvement in new projects because it sends the message that our opinions and efforts matter. Collectively, we want to make the program stronger.”
After only one year of developing a student-led facet to the Co-op Mentorship Program, interest is much higher in those that are invited to return for a second or third year as mentors. By including them in all aspects of development and delivery, the program has grown into a highly motivating and fun group for all concerned, volunteers and staff alike.
Keeping it interesting for them will ensure its appeal to potential mentor recruits and mentees alike and keep the program alive and well for years to come.