Dylan Manderlink

Often when I think of mentorship, I think about people who consistently supported me and gave me advice while I was in grade school (like my government and politics teacher in high school), role models I’ve had throughout my life, or opportunities where older students were paired to mentor me in an extracurricular activity (like student council and school plays).  Those instances of mentorship, although valuable and memorable in many ways, ended once I left high school.  For the longest time, I thought mentorship was something that happened to me, not something I did.  I also thought there was an age cap on mentorship and that it ended once you became an adult.

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However, when I got to college my perception of mentorship–both on the giving and receiving end–changed and matured.  I realized that I could still be mentored and greatly benefit from the relationship and opportunity even in my twenties.  I also realized that I too could be a mentor to others.  I owe those newfound insights to mentorship–both in the professional and personal sense–to my professional and philanthropic sorority, Kappa Gamma Chi.

Through my sorority, I was mentored by both women attending Emerson on similar career paths, as well as by alumni who were working in the industry I was interested in.   

Through the mentorship and networking opportunities I had through Kappa, I not only realized my potential, but also discovered my desire to share the invaluable gift of mentorship with others.  During my senior year of college, I volunteered as a ‘Big for a Day’ through the Big Sisters Association of Greater Boston (an organization that strives to help young girls succeed through positive mentoring and enrichment programs), as a tutor for middle school students at a writing and academic enrichment center outside of Boston, and served as an AmeriCorps Student Leader in Service.  In each of those capacities, I was able to serve one or a group of students, provide mentorship and support (both personally and academically), and assist them with their identified needs and areas of growth.   

Following college, I became a high school teacher where I feel like most of my job, aside from teaching content, was mentoring students who sought my support, advice, insight, and assistance.  In so many ways, teaching is being a full-time mentor to students.  Last summer I was a mentor teacher to incoming first-year teachers through a teacher training program in Arkansas, which was fulfilling in both a professional and personal way.  Through that experience, I learned about how to effectively manage and mentor people of all ages, how to find common ground among a diverse group of people, and how to help people set goals and reach them.

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Admitting my areas of growth was the best I could do for my mentee relationship.

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With this month being National Mentorship Month, let’s explore why mentorship is important and valuable!

No one is a complete expert in their industry; even if they are deemed an ‘expert,’ they’ve probably had a mentor (or several) to whom they owe their knowledge, expertise, and success.  As an early-career teacher in a public school, I was assigned a veteran teacher as a mentor by my principal.  Depending on the school, mentor teachers will usually observe their ‘mentee’ on a regular basis, purposely check in on them both professionally and personally, and provide classroom and pedagogy resources to improve their mentee’s practice and expand their knowledge of the field.  

I’m sure in other industries mentors are assigned, but if that’s not the case at your job and you are in need of one, try asking your manager or boss!  Or, if you’ve been working in that field for years, you can always unofficially mentor an intern or newcomer in your job.  Your advice, previous experience, and insights may go farther than you realize.  I don’t know if my mentors in education realize how much of an impact they have had on my work life, but they have certainly helped bridge my gaps of knowledge due to my limited experience and have provided resources and support that have significantly improved my teaching.  

As a mentor to a newcomer at work, a student at a local school, a sister/brother through the Big Sisters and Big Brothers Association or a similar nonprofit, or to a younger peer in a sorority or at your university, you benefit in many ways from the mentorship relationship.  As a mentor in various capacities, I learned more from the person I was mentoring and the responsibilities that come with mentoring than I initially expected to.  In a professional way, I learned how to better listen to a colleague’s identified needs and concerns, and then not only assist my mentees in addressing them, but also in solving them and moving forward.  I learned how to be an objective observer of their work while also providing necessary support and advice.  

One of the most challenging but rewarding lessons I have learned as a mentor is how to effectively mentor another professional while you still have a lot of room to grow and learn yourself.  There were many times I struggled with this balance as president of my sorority and as a mentor teacher.  The people I was mentoring were expecting to be mentored by me, learn from me, and be taught in some capacity by me, but what happens if I don’t know something?  I soon found that admitting my areas of growth while also actively trying to improve and learn more was the best I could do for my mentee relationship, which also increased the trust and respect within our mentee relationship.  Framing your mentorship as more of a shared experience and exchange allows for mistakes to be made, room for growth, and mutual admiration that isn’t marred by hierarchical pressure implied by the assigned roles of a mentor and mentee.  It also helps to ask a lot of questions of your mentee when mentoring him or her and to get to know their background, and previous experience.  This way, you are both learning from each other and you can provide support that is personalized and appropriate for them and the experience they are coming in with. 

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Being a steady and reliable role model in another person’s life may be the support they need.

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In a less professional sense, being a mentor through a nonprofit like Big Sisters Association changed my life in many ways.  I mentored a girl in the Greater Boston Area who shared her background, life, and circumstances with me and in turn, gave me a new perspective on young people growing up in a low-income area of Boston and the particular challenges they face.  Her youthful and wide-eyed observations on life inspired me and affirmed my choice of becoming a teacher.

In addition to donating money to a cause every month, or if you are unable to, think about how personally rewarding and meaningful a mentorship opportunity could be for you and the person you are mentoring — whether it be a student, child, peer, or co-worker.   Additionally, being a steady, stable, and reliable role model and adult in another person’s life may be the support, assistance, and care that they need.  I know especially for some of the students I have taught and mentored, just being someone they could talk to, go to for advice (both academically and personally), and learn from was helpful.  Mentor a community member and help them develop new skills, teach them about a new field, support their passions and areas of interest, and be a support system for them both professionally and personally.  Maybe in turn, they will then return the favor and be a mentor for someone else in need.  The cycle could continue, and you may make more of a positive impact than you had originally thought.  Mentoring is a tangible way to contribute to your community and to another person’s life.

I hope you feel inspired and motivated to give back to your community, your job, and others through the fostering of a mentor relationship.  This personal way of helping others by guiding them to achieve their passions and find direction will be immensely rewarding on both ends and you’ll be so glad you did it.

 

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Comments (1)

  1. Meagan Hooper

Thank you for sharing all of this, Dylan! Mentorship and connectivity is everything.

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