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Panelists Comments


During the October 17, 2008 Faculty Mentor Lunch Workshop, a panel of 4 senior faculty with much mentoring experience provided insights and advice about mentoring. Our panel included 1 dean, 1 chair, and 2 senior faculty from 4 different colleges:  CELS, Nursing, HSS, and Business Administration.

James Anderson, Professor & Chair, Environment and Natural Resource Economics
Prof. James AndersonProfessor & Chair of Environment and Natural Resource Economics,said he values and encourages mutual respect between faculty and chair, and among faculty members. He recognizes that gender issues may arise in the department, but he tries to deal with them as soon as possible. He explained that everyone in the department is a mentor, and that everyone is expected to be a mentor. For him, not being a mentor is unacceptable. James described two rules he applies as chair: 1) hire well, and 2) listen. He has a locally “famous” tradition that is a good way to connect casually with people in the department: he asks everybody (faculty and graduate students) to paddle to his house, and afterwards, they can have beer or they can stay for a nice conversation.

Lynn McKinney, Dean, College of Human Science and Services
According to Lynn McKinney, Dean of the College of Human Science and Services
faculty are the natural resource of URI. They are the predictor of what the university, department and discipline will look like in the future. When recruiting faculty, he interviews everybody and tells them “your success is my first priority.” Then, he behaves according to this priority. He tries to assign mentors who have the same values as the prospective mentees.

In April of the first year of employment Lynn conducts a first-year review of each faculty member, both giving feedback and asking what barriers exist to the faculty member’s success. He believes that it is important to let everybody in the department know that they are reviewing the performance of the department as well, and feedback should go in both directions.

He described the actual mentoring program that is going on in the college. There are 18 untenured faculty now. Before the beginning of the semester they are reminded about the program. Then, they are asked an important question: what would you like to work on this year? Feedback is provided to them in the form of sessions or activities that address their expressed needs. He also provides up to $1,000 per faculty for professional development from his overhead account. He also buys them books, such as Bette Erickson’s and C.B Peter’s book, “Teach First Year College Students.” Another way Lynn encourages communication is that, along with Nancy Fey-Yensan, Associate Dean of the college, Lynn, Nan and 1-2 new faculty get together for breakfast, and all share their stories. Finally, at the end of the year, Lynn hosts an annual mentor-junior faculty dinner at his house.

Donna Schwartz-Barcott, Professor, Nursing
One thing that happens fairly often among the people that are hired in the College of Nursing is that they have been professionals for a long time, as was described by Donna Schwartz-Barcott, Professor of Nursing. She described this group of people as very particular, since they’ve been in the workworld for some time, juggling and balancing many aspects of their lives, while still being successful. She spends time getting to know the newly hired faculty, and explores how they live their lives outside of their career, as well as what they love about nursing. She tries to help them find the connection between what they love to do and what they actually do, as there is often a disconnect, and once they do what they really love, their productivity and satisfaction increase. In the college, the mentors are usually informal rather than formal.  There can be Ph.D. and no Ph.D. mentors/mentees. One attendee to the workshop (another mentor) mentioned the unique and supportive climate in Nursing. Donna noted that “we see each other as patients and so we just naturally make efforts to care for each other.”


Laura Beauvais, Professor, Business Administration
Laura said she has learned from early mistakes in an early mentoring relationship with a mentee who was close in age. “I failed as a mentor, at least one time. I became overly close and it blinded me to their progress.” Laura agreed that a topic needing more attention is how to mentor someone who is the same age or older. But she is grateful for what she learned from those experiences and she has very positive relationships now with her mentees. Laura offered 5 pieces of key advice: 1) Know your boundaries – be careful of getting too close. 2) Your job is not always to give advice – listen and let your mentee come up with solutions. Sometimes people only need a sounding board – this works especially well with more experienced people. 3) Confidentiality – need to be clear about what is confidential information and get permission from your mentee before talking to others. One way to approach situations that involve others is to go to them as a colleague discussing a general issue, not as someone’s mentor. 4) Don’t be less proactive with older individuals, who often think they know everything; they usually do not realize URI’s unique challenges and idiosyncrasies, especially if they are coming from a corporate environment. 5) Maintain a continuous relationship – be proactive; make efforts to stay in touch, drop in to say hello frequently, etc.

Panelists Comments-2007

During the October 12, 2007 Mentor Workshop, 4 seasoned faculty representing four different colleges were asked to offer their own perspectives on mentoring.  Each of panelists offered unique insights.

Arun Shukla, Professor and Chair of Mechanical Engineering 
According to Arun Shukla, Professor and Chair of Mechanical Engineering (EGR), most new faculty are unsure about what expectations exist regarding how they spend their time. He believes that new faculty should not be involved in too much service, as they have significant time constraints and don’t know the culture of the institution yet. What service they do engage in should be mostly limited to their professional area, with perhaps a limited amount for their department. Ideally, Arun feels there should not be any service required for the first 4-5 years. He agrees that teaching is important, but that tenure decisions in his discipline are determined mostly on research accomplishments. In this regard, mentors should help new faculty make connections that will help promote their research. Bringing in funding by conducting “smart” research is important and can be aided by effective mentoring.

Breck Peters, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology 
Breck Peters, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology (CAS) considers the most important job a mentor can do is to provide junior faculty with “local knowledge.”  Every institution has a tacit, implicit culture that takes time to understand.  Breck believes a mentor can play a major role in helping to make this tacit knowledge overt. For example, knowing that a “tall” coffee at Starbucks is actually the smallest size, or that a given administrative assistant will not take on certain tasks are important pieces of insider information.  He recommends that mentors do self-examinations to identify what they know implicitly and what unfounded assumptions might be in place.  Breck included in this some exploration surrounding such issues as gender, race, age, sexual orientation.  He believes that informal networks wield more power than formal networks, and knowing how to negotiate department politics is important.  Finally, in exploring the implicit culture that exists at various levels of the university requires that trust be developed within the mentoring relationship.  This is essential if new faculty are to feel comfortable discussing sensitive issues or asking troubling questions with senior faculty.

Susan Roush, Professor of Physical Therapy
Susan Roush, Professor of Physical Therapy (HSS) said that an important to know is that a significant commitment of time is expected. In order to access the “local knowledge” Breck Peters discussed, mentees must be given the time to chat informally, as things will come to the surface during extended conversations. The time put in is not only valuable to the junior faculty, but eventually can translate into potential, unexpected benefits in both directions – collaborations develop, new insights on the part of senior faculty are realized, etc.  Susan also talked about the well-developed mentoring program in her college, Human Science and Services. After some experimenting, they have arrived at a very popular venue. Junior faculty meet at 3 pm at the UClub twice each semester. Over refreshments, including cocktails, for the first 1.5 hr, a speaker presents on a content topic and social time. Following this, there is ample time to socialize.  The dean also hosts a very popular social gathering at the end of the year with mentors and mentees.

Nancy Fey-Yensan, Associate Dean of Human Science and Services and Professor of Nutrition & Food Science (CELS)
Nancy Fey-Yensan, Associate Dean of Human Science and Services and Professor of Nutrition & Food Science (CELS) came from a college (CELS) that initially had 5 women out of 100 faculty. This college has recently stepped up to the challenge of mentoring and, with the help of Nan and the ADVANCE program, has developed a progressive mentoring policy.  They provide two mentors, one for teaching and one for research. The search committee is given the task of assigning mentors, because they know candidates the best.  They will be conducting mid-year assessment to determine how the initial mentoring relationships are working out. In addition to tenure-track faculty, CELS non tenure-track faculty also are assigned mentors.  Another feature of their program is the provision of funding every year by the Dean for new faculty to attend teaching and grant-writing workshops off campus. Nan emphasized the importance of a good relationship between mentors and the Dean’s office.  Currently the CELS policy does not provide course release time for mentors, but providing some type of incentive for mentors is something they are still considering.

Nan offered an alternative to Arun Shukla’s comments regarding the importance of service in the workload of new faculty.  She noted her own service work early in her career allowed her to connect with that “local knowledge” and those tacit networks, effectively allowing her to learn the culture. She appreciates the different demands of each discipline, and believes mentors should encourage their mentees to work in committees within reason.

Finally, Nan described her own approach to mentoring, which follows a “coaching model.”  Her advice is for mentors to spend 10% of their time with mentees discussing past projects, 10% on present projects, and 80% on envisioning the future and planning how to make that future a reality.


All panelists
Final panelists exchanges can be summarized as follows:

    • Off-campus workshops for junior faculty are highly rated for providing a great opportunity to bond with other new faculty in their discipline
    • What is the role of service?  Depends on discipline, but it should be determined what role it plays both toward getting tenure, as well as making connections at the University
    • Mentors should instill in junior faculty a sense of obligation as a citizen of the University
    • Mentors should stay positive with their mentees, while also protecting them from negative political dynamics

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