Speed mentoring: latest in academic matchmaking

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By Jill Radwin

Union is one of a handful of schools to adopt a new matchmaking process. Inspired by the popularity of “speed dating,” an event called “speed mentoring” has emerged as a new practice for meeting others to network or to form a mentorship.

The Skidmore Union Network (SUN) is the first organization at Union to try out speed mentoring, which they learned about from the University of Kentucky. As a result of SUN’s success with the event, Union’s National Science Foundation/Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (NSF/STEM) Scholars hosted their first speed mentoring event this term.

Both programs are funded by grants from the NSF and target members involved in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The Skidmore Union Network  deals directly with female tenure-track and tenured associate professors that work in the STEM subjects. SUN provides the resources to aid these professors in the advancement of their careers.

The organization has had recent success with speed mentoring as a means to facilitate meaningful mentorships within the program. At the events, mentees have the opportunity to briefly meet with several mentors. The session concludes with an opportunity for everyone to meet informally so that they can have time for longer conversations.

The NSF/STEM Scholars adapted SUN’s speed mentoring to allow freshmen students to meet seniors that have been involved with the program for four years. The STEM Scholars Program provides scholarships for students involved in STEM disciplines provided they adhere to the program’s requirements, namely attendance of weekly lunch meetings, a sophomore project, and the fulfillment of an additional credit.

“Of the six schools I got accepted to, Union was the only one that offered such a unique and science specific scholars program,” Angella McLelland ‘11 said. “CT [NSF/STEM] was easily the deciding factor for me.“

At the Scholars’ recent speed mentoring event, freshmen had the opportunity to choose a mentor or to simply meet seniors whom they can contact for support and advice as they move through the program.

Professor Ann Anderson, who heads the senior Scholars explains, “Traditionally, we would give freshmen a name of a senior to contact over the summer who was to be their mentor. They were then encouraged to meet up once they are back at school.”

Anderson hopes that by bringing students together through speed mentoring meetings, they will meet up more frequently than in the past.

About ten freshmen and twelve upperclassmen attended the recent speed mentoring event, with tables filled with seniors on one side and freshmen on the other. The students had three to four minutes to meet with about seven upperclassmen individually. McLelland notes that the conversation topics ranged from intended majors all the way to favorite foods.

“I think the idea of speed dating, or in this case, speed mentoring, has a certain built-in awkwardness. The need to fill the silence was significantly less than that felt during more ordered mentoring opportunities,” McLelland said.

Following the event, students set up a Facebook page to keep in contact. Due to its success, Anderson anticipates that the NSF/STEM Scholars will offer a speed mentoring event for next year’s incoming freshmen as well.

“Although it was a lot of repetitive information, I was able to start learning some names and faces,” Steven Stangle ‘14 said. Unfortunately, because of how quick the conversations were, it was difficult to really get to know any one person well. Making it a two-day event and giving more time per person would have greatly improved the experience.”

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