Mentor program to launch

by Maria Flores

Jan 24, 2011

As an attempt to enrich the university experience and increase direct contact between McGill students, faculty, and staff, a Staff-Student Mentoring program is scheduled begin this term. Students will be randomly assigned to a mentor from a faculty different from their own, in order to build a non-academic relationship and facilitate informal conversations.

The idea was initially proposed by chemistry professor David Harpp after the Principal’s Task Force on Student Life and Learning recommended that the university enhance advising and mentoring. A group of students interested in the project acted on Harpp’s proposal, and the program is set to be officially launched in March.

“[It is] a trusted relationship that could perhaps and hopefully benefit the students,” said Harpp, explaining that the program will “enable students to see that there is a wide net of stuff that goes on in this university.”

Students will typically have two mentors to choose from, which will be drawn from either the regular teaching staff or from the administrative staff. A mentor profile site will allow students to see the mentor’s interests, and if there are special preferences by either the mentor or the mentee, these can be specifically met.

“The program isn’t intended to replace anything that McGill already has,” said Arts Senator Amara Possian, who has been working on the project for eight months. “The idea is to build a sense of community from both sides.”  

While explaining that the aim of the program is non-academic and that the mentor is not intended to act on the student’s behalf, Dean of Students Jane Everett recognized that the program could also help students to better understand the overall functioning of the university.

“It doesn’t mean that the mentor could not help the student figure out how McGill works,” Everett said.

“But we also think it would be very valuable for mentors,” she added, “because unless you are in a job like mine you don’t get to meet people from across the university, and in some of the administrative units, you don’t see students at all.”

According to Harpp, “cross-connectivity is more apt to happen” when mentors are matched with students from different faculties.

“It could become academic under certain circumstances, but it hopefully will become a trusting relationship,” Harpp said. “So if a student in the Faculty of Law got to know a Management faculty member, it is likely that they talk about business, but they may also likely to talk about a personal situation.”

Listervs, classroom announcements, Facebook groups, and bookmarks have been used to promote the program. But organizers are hoping that word of mouth will play a large role as well.

A checklist of guidelines is outlined on the website in order to make clear that the program officially exists within the university. Mentors have been asked to commit a minimum of two hours per term, which should happen during business hours at least initially, to ensure the program is run professionally.   

“We are going to have a launch in early March,” Possian said. “This is a pilot project so we are expecting a few problems. We are going to work to get feedback to find out what we can do to improve and then we’ll take it from there.”

Over time, the program’s goal is to develop the concept of getting to know somebody who can potentially assist students in some way during their stay at McGill. According to Everett, spending time with another person at McGill with whom one previously had little connection may give the sense that “someone’s got your back, in a way.”

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