Have Fun, Make a Difference – Mentor

Do you want an opportunity to have fun while making a difference in someone else’s life? Consider mentoring. My first experience as a mentor began at about age twelve when I tutored a younger cousin in mathematics and English. Since then mentoring has been a part of my life.

What exactly is mentoring? Probably the story most often repeated explaining the origin of the word “mentor” comes from Greek mythology: Mentor was the elderly friend of Odysseus whom the latter appointed to be responsible for his son Telemachus while Odysseus went to fight in the Trojan War. According to the myth, the goddess Athena assumed the shape of Mentor many times in order to give counsel to those she wished to help. As Mentor, Athena appeared to Telemachus and instructed him concerning his journey to Pylos and Sparta where Telemachus was to go to get news about his father. Athena, still disguised as Mentor, accompanied and counseled Telemachus on this journey. Thus, mentor took on the connotation of an individual who provides counsel, usually to someone younger and less experienced.

In our contemporary society, a mentor has taken on a slightly expanded meaning. The Oxford University Press defines a mentor as : “1 an experienced and trusted adviser. 2 an experienced person in an organization or institution who trains and counsels new employees or students.” According to Wikipedia, www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki,”…mentors provide their expertise to less experienced individuals in order to help them advance their careers, enhance their education, and build their networks.” The definition of a mentor in Mentor, www.mentoring.org/, indicates that their aim is to serve young people in their communities.

Mentoring can be formal or informal. Formal mentoring usually occurs out of the intention to create a structured, preplanned session with defined goals and expectations. Examples of formal mentoring experiences include tutoring adults in ESL (English as a second language) and training new employees on-the-job, such as in the areas of social services and law. Informal mentoring experiences may develop naturally out of a situation without intentional preplanning; usually the informal mentoring experience just happens. Some examples of informal mentoring include explaining the rules and regulations of a board game, showing someone the latest dance step, or helping someone change a flat tire.

Whether formal or informal, the role of a mentor is primarily that of an adviser or guide. The mentor imparts knowledge through explanation, instruction, guidance, opinion, and advice. The mentor also assists the mentee in identifying his or her potential, and guides the mentee in the manifestation, development, and expression of that potential.

There are numerous advantages to the mentoring process. Some of these advantages include:
âÂ?¢ tailoring sessions so that they are compatible with the mentee’s learning style,
âÂ?¢ imparting information in a manner that meets the mentee’s ability to assimilate and integrate the information,
� scheduling learning sessions at a time mutually convenient for the mentee and mentor,
âÂ?¢ tailoring practice sessions to meet the mentee’s schedule, and
� scheduling meetings to take place face-to-face at a selected site, or by phone, or online.

As well as the advantages that are inherent in the mentoring process, there are some definite benefits to the mentee and mentor. Benefits to the mentee may include:
� defining purpose
� identifying objectives
� learning to make choices
� learning to accept responsibility
� enhancing communication skills
� identifying personality strengths
� understanding personality challenges
� modifying behavior

The most obvious benefit to the mentor includes the personal satisfaction derived from making a contribution to another person and the community. An astute mentor may also gain insight into his or her own personality, strengths, and weaknesses as they are revealed throughout the mentoring process.

What are some characteristics that make for a good mentor? According to the BBC online Science & Nature Homepage, www.bbc.co.uk/, mentors are planners, they like to encourage personal growth in others, and they think of themselves as intelligent and outgoing. Mentors are also patient, flexible, supportive, good listeners, and non-judgmental.

How does one become a mentor? One way to become a mentor is to contact an organization that provides volunteer opportunities for mentoring. Usually these organizations will interview the interested applicant to determine if he or she matches the characteristics and traits that they seek in a mentor. In some instances, the organization may provide a formal program to train the volunteer in mentoring. A potential mentor may find out about mentoring opportunities through organizations that specialize in providing information about mentoring opportunities that are available. They also can assist the interested party in finding a suitable match. Another way to become a mentor is to attend a workshop on mentoring. Some of these workshop sponsors charge a nominal registration fee, while others may require a more substantial payment. Workshop sponsors usually issue a certificate upon completion.

Take some time to examine your life, particularly your career. There are probably instances that you can recall in which you informally or formally mentored someone. What was it you had knowledge of that was valuable to the mentee? What skills did you possess and use in imparting that knowledge. Identify that knowledge and those skills and you have discovered the mentor in you. For more information, check out Mentor,www.mentoring.org/; Mentoring, Peer Resources, www.peer.ca/mentor.html; The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal, www.psu.edu/dus/mentor/; and associated links.

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