In recent years, mentorship programs at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) have become widely available across student organizations and program departments. This rise has prompted a curiosity in the use and benefits of these programs. Laura Walkling, the student engagement coordinator at the Centre for Student Engagement (CSE), provides her insight to the importance of having a mentor and the programs offered on campus.
“[Mentorships] are a working alliance in which individuals work together over time to support the professional growth and success of the people in that relationship, through career-focused, social, and engagement support,” says Walkling.
A mentor is defined as “a trusted counselor or guide.” Mentors are people with whom we can connect with for personal development and growth. Though we seek advice from mentors, often the relationship is a two-way road—both the mentor and mentee benefit.
“Mentorship relationships are successful when you feel a sense of equality or equity, [where] a power imbalance is not present, [and you] have trust and feel at ease,” expresses Walkling. Mentors can help us brainstorm ideas, hear our thoughts, and answer our questions. They push us when we need it most and challenge us when our way of thinking is limited.
Mentorships require all parties to put time and effort to build the relationship. “It is not a transactional relationship,” adds Walkling, meaning mentorships don’t require an exchange of money, goods, or services. To fully benefit from one, it is important to select a mentor with whom our expectations can be fulfilled. There are numerous mentorship programs on campus with diverse objectives. The first step to choose a good mentor is to understand which mentorship program aligns with our goals—whether that be obtaining academic support from mentors in the program, or personal growth that emphasizes values, interests, and goals.
Once an objective has been identified, we must remain open-minded about which mentor would be a good fit. While most of us may prefer to have mentors with specific commonalities, Walkling states that some of the best mentor relationships happen when the mentor and mentee have nothing in common.
Previous research studies show how successful mentorship programs can be. According to Walkling, student retention and success are tied closely to maintaining contact with a peer; one who can provide advice on what they are experiencing. Mentors give us a better sense of connection. They boost our confidence to push through difficult times and offer advice if they’ve been through similar experiences.
“Peer support is so important,” expresses Walkling. This is why mentorship programs at UTM are established, where both the mentee and mentor are students. Even outside of university, having a mentor is valuable because they provide a different perspective—they are someone who wants our betterment.
The CSE offers numerous mentorship programs aimed toward student involvement and identity growth on campus. These opportunities allow students to connect with current or graduate students, as well as alumni. The International Education Centre (IEC) which offers resources to transitioning international students, along with various UTM organizations and departments, also offer mentorship programs.
Many of these mentorships are available on the UTM Mentorship Hub online platform managed by Walkling. Used by academic, non-academic, and fee-paying student groups, the UTM Mentorship Hub is a central point of connection for mentors and their potential mentees.
Whether you’re an alumnus, undergraduate, or graduate student, mentorships are a great way to boost your personal development and growth. They can help us stay motivated and focused. Striving to find a mentor in life is a personal choice; a choice that can never go wrong, so long as we have the time and willingness to build that two-way road.