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UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 6 | Jun. 3, 2004

Paying it Forward

Mentors pass it on

By Cristina Calboreanu

Trying to find your way and your place in the world as a university student can be exciting and rewarding. It can also be overwhelming, confusing and frustrating.

A new mentoring program developed by UBC Career Services with support from the Counselling Foundation of Canada is helping students gain clarity about their educational and career paths. The program's tri-level structure gives mentoring an innovative twist. Third- or fourth-year students are matched with faculty or industry mentors in the students' areas of study. These students, in turn, mentor first- or second-year students.

"There are only three Canadian universities funded to pilot tri-mentoring programs and UBC is one of them," explains Diane Johnson, mentoring projects manager with Career Services. "There is great interest from other universities and organizations in what we're doing here."

Approximately 300 students and 140 mentors from industry and academia are currently involved in the program and, starting in September, close to 525 students and 260 mentors will participate in tri-mentoring in areas such as agricultural sciences, applied science, dentistry, computer science and life sciences.

Julianne Sun, a third-year food and nutritional sciences student, says meeting with her industry mentor gave her confidence to proceed on her chosen career path.

"I know now it will not be easy to search for my first job once I graduate and that I should be getting as much experience as I can during the summer or working part time during the next school year," she explains. "Therefore, right now I am busy planning and searching for appropriate companies and workshops to help myself gain knowledge and experience."

The unique structure of the program allows senior students to benefit from the knowledge and experience of their industry mentors, while at the same time building mentorship and citizenship skills. In turn, junior students receive information and suggestions on matters such as course selection and volunteering. For some, the lessons learned go well beyond career advice.

In a survey of program participants, a third-year horticultural student wrote, "At first I was disappointed that my industry mentor was not a professional agricultural researcher, but then I was inspired by the fact that my mentor was able to bring her other job experiences into her current career as a landscaper. Instead of learning how to get from a degree to my dream job, I learned how a person can make the most of their experiences to do something they love."

For a group of engineering students, tri-mentoring provided an opportunity to address a social need, according to PhD candidates Donna Dykeman and Erin Young, the program co-ordinators of the Engineering Mentoring Program pilot in the Faculty of Applied Science.

"We wanted to provide a support network for women in engineering," explains Dykeman. "Twenty per cent of all engineering students are women, but the number of women actually working in the field is much lower, around five per cent. We would like to see women not be a minority in this area."

With support from the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia, the Engineering Mentoring Program pilot started in January 2004 with 30 students and 15 academia and industry mentors. There are also plans to expand the program to all engineering students in September.

"The program is showing students that there's a great variety and a broad spectrum of careers in engineering, not just your stereotypical manufacturing environment," says Young. "The field is very broad and can be broadened further to fields like law, ethics, and medicine."

The Faculty of Agricultural Sciences was the first unit at UBC to implement the new program. In September 2001, 42 students were matched with 21 industry mentors.

Community Partnerships Co-ordinator Cathleen Nichols says that before implementing tri-mentoring, she had co-ordinated other mentorship programs in agricultural sciences, as well as developing internship and co-operative education programs, but she found tri-mentoring opened new doors.

"What I like about tri-mentoring is the fact that it is self-sustainable," says Nichols. "You're linking junior students with seniors, and if you do it right the juniors will stay connected with the program and come back as seniors. Our senior students soon realize the value of mentoring for all parties and come back as alumni.

"Tri-mentoring is helping us reconnect with our alumni, which is a struggle for all the faculties on campus," she adds, "and it's also helping students make good decisions in terms of their chosen path and career development."

While there are great hopes for tri-mentoring at UBC, for some the program has already proven successful for all involved. For mentors, explains Johnson, this is an opportunity to network with other professionals in the field and especially to "give back to the community."

For the students, Nichols says tri-mentoring "gives them self-esteem. It gets them asking some really good questions about career development, and it's helping them to see into the future. It's exciting to see the growth in them, and it would be wonderful if tri-mentoring was implemented campus-wide."

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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