Michael Cowling, Kwong Nui Sim, Robert Vanderburg, ASCILITE Executive Members
This year marks 20 years since the ASCILITE Community Mentoring Program (CMP) instigation. The CMP has been a stalwart of ASCILITE for a long time, and with over 75 mentors and mentees participating in the 2023 program alone, it shows little evidence of slowing down! So what is it that makes the CMP so appealing?
First, it is worth noting that all of the current CMP coordinators since 2020 have been involved in CMP as a mentee and/or a mentor. Michael has been involved with the CMP for around six years, first as a mentee, then a mentor, before finally coordinating the program with Kwong Nui Sim, who also started as a mentee. Robert Vanderburg similarly has been involved in the program for several years. We all knew as soon as we joined that we had found something unique, and that this program provided us with access to a subset of the ASCILITE Community passionate about collaborating and giving back, not only through the mentor-mentee relationship but also through the community as a whole with connections between mentors and mentees often persisting beyond the 12 months of their CMP journey.
Since 2020, Kwong Nui and Michael collated program evaluation data from around 80 CMP participants asking the question “Please send me 2-3 sentences about your CMP experiences (anything)”, which Robert helped to distil. Whilst some unique themes changed during COVID-19 (keep an eye out for a future publication!), we identified several common themes that participants consistently identified as most beneficial in the program. These six themes are presented below on the program’s 20th anniversary to help individuals going forward understand the benefit of the program.
# Breaking Down the Benefits of the CMP During the Pandemic
Not unsurprisingly, the first common theme emerging from the data was Professional Growth and Development. We all remember when we were a mentee joining the program for the ability to learn from a more experienced mentor, and this is certainly reflected in the feedback. However, consistently in the CMP, we often hear from mentors that they also feel that they grow in this program. Whether it’s due to them learning mentorship and communication skills or perhaps learning about a new area they’ve not previously been involved with (for instance when a mentor coaches a mentee outside their discipline or when an academic mentors a professional staff member), the data shows that this growth and development goes both ways.
The next common theme of Learning and Skill Development relates to growth. An essential tenet of the CMP is that all pairings must establish a project or task that they will complete during the program. Whilst we allow for a certain amount of ‘whinging and whining’, we also ask that participants work towards an outcome, whether an academic paper, a public scholarship piece, or maybe organising an event! Once again, the data suggests that in working on this project, both mentors and mentees learn a lot about a new area and build valuable skills.
The third theme is also within expectation, with participants reporting that the CMP helps with Relationship Building and Connection. Of course, primary amongst these is the relationship between mentor and mentee, and the Collaborative CMP (introduced in 2011) extends this further, pairing multiple mentors and mentees into a bigger group. However, we also hear from mentees that relationships extend beyond their mentor, with good mentors making connections to other scholars in the field or area where they are working. We are also happy to report that as CMP coordinators, we have made valuable connections with mentors and mentees from the program, working with them on projects and connecting them to others in our field.
Building out from this theme is the fourth theme of Networking and Collaboration. Distinct from relationship building, this theme describes the connections that can be made because of the CMP program and exemplifies those situations where one’s relationship with a colleague enables connections to others that lead to collaboration. The classic parable of seeking out a mentor to say hello at the face-to-face conference and subsequently being introduced to all their colleagues applies here. However, during COVID-19 we found that this continued virtually, with mentors and mentees inviting each other to virtual meetings for their institutions. These new connections can then be built on to expand the participants’ networks and collaborate on new projects.
The fifth theme is something we were excited to see from such a longstanding program, which was a universal recognition of the Positive Impact and Appreciation participants had for the CMP. For all the reasons outlined above, CMP participants sing the praises of the program and the effect it has on their jobs and their careers. Beyond appreciation for mentors and connections to them outside of the program (we often get emails asking if mentees were allowed to continue to talk to a mentor after the year was over – the answer, of course, is ‘please do!’). As coordinators, we regularly hear stories about how the program helped a participant find a new role, or move to a different city, or even in some cases pursue an entirely new career path. Perhaps nothing better reflects this appreciation than the fact that most mentees immediately return to mentor in the program, and most mentors continue with the program for multiple years, showing how much they appreciate what the program can do.
Finally, appropriate for a mentoring program, the last theme was Reflective Practice and Community of Practice. As Australasia becomes more and more focused on scholarship, it’s become almost an expectation that our university staff will reflect on their practice and what they do in their roles, so it’s heart-warming to see that the CMP helps participants to do this. Connecting with a mentor and discussing your work inevitably asks you to consider how that work is best conducted and unpack your own approaches. During COVID-19, we built on this by asking participants to share their own best practices during virtual meetings (such as our mid-year check-in and our just-before-the-conference second-wind sessions), turning the CMP into a Community of Practice for our participants. We have also begun to recognise former CMP participants as ‘alumni’ of the program, working to keep them in this CoP even after their mentee/mentoring relationship is over.
# Our Twenty-Year Community
So, on the 20th anniversary of the CMP, we thought it was a perfect time for us to engage in our own reflective practice. We’ve known informally what the CMP does (which is why it’s lasted 20 years), but our data collection helped us to formalise this into six key themes resonating with us as coordinators. Through these themes, we hope to have shown the intrinsic benefits of the program and look forward to seeing how it evolves post-COVID, including its expansion this year into the joint Community Mentoring / Women in Professional Leadership Program (CMP-WiPL), as CMP has its first year of the Women in Professional Leadership Programme (WiPL) being a subset of this portfolio.
Here’s to another 20 years of the ASCILITE CMP!