Panel advises junior faculty
Panelists addressed junior faculty frustrations at a mentoring discussion hosted by the University Commission on Women on Wednesday in the Honors Commons.
The event focused on the methods and organization of successful department-implemented mentoring programs throughout campus.
“Several junior faculty expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of mentoring in their departments and programs,” said Holly Hutchins, chair of the Faculty Advancement Task Force, a subcommittee of the UCW.
Mentoring programs are designed to foster professional development by connecting a senior professional with a junior protégé to increase employee performance and commitment to the organization, and to share knowledge and experience.
UH does not have a program to address all areas of the University, but the UCW, which focuses on the concerns and issues of women on campus and gender equality, has a strong interest in addressing this cause.
“The UCW realizes that there is real concern among junior faculty that there is no formalized University-wide mentoring program,” said Faculty Co-Chair of the UCW Lisa Alastuey.
Volunteers from departments with mentoring programs discussed how their programs were organized to ensure that their junior faculty will succeed in the years to come.
Vera Hutchinson, the department chair of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education, said that when she first became an administrator she found several assistant professors were struggling to identify their support structure.
“This gave me an immediate charge to become more involved with our new faculty,” Hutchinson said.
The goal for her mentoring process is to help people become productive in their performance within the University’s culture by building competence, professional learning and professional peer bonding, and by promoting adaptation to the new culture and environment.
“Mentoring provides for sustainability and the capacity to maintain and become successful as a professor moving through the tenure track,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson has achieved a successful program by thoughtfully pairing mentors with mentees, encouraging frequent meetings to answer questions and introducing a checklist to address the most important issues.
The physics department, chaired by faculty member and professor Lawrence Pinsky, maintains a formal mentoring process with a “cloud structure,” which divides mentoring responsibilities among multiple faculty members.
Pinksy addressed the issues of gender equity and said he used suggestions from previous experiences to organize programs that enlist both incoming tenure-track faculty and women in the department, including graduate students and post-doctoral scholars, to provide guidance.
“I think it’s very important, especially in fields like ours that are underrepresented, that the women have role models,” Pinksy said in regards to communicating common issues.
The Marketing and Entrepreneurship Department in the C.T. Bauer College of Business has both formal and informal programs that address the expectations of incoming faculty, relying heavily on the performance evaluations and yearly status reports.
Edward Blair, chair of the department of marketing and entrepreneurship, said that performance evaluations are the “context for mentoring” for the formal programs, and that it is important for faculty to understand the structure in which they are being evaluated.
After sitting through the yearly department status report, which is the first department meeting a new faculty member would attend, Blair said that the goals and overall mission of the department should be clear.
The informal leg of the mentoring program revolves around the department’s culture and social interactions.
Blair said that group lunches and social situations are easier, positive ways to initiate conversation about professional issues.
“We’re trying to encourage interaction,” Blair said.
Interaction between a mentor and a mentee can provide useful experience when transitioning into other areas of a profession, as it did for Jami Kovach, an assistant professor in the College of Technology.
Kovach, who is beginning her sixth year, has received many benefits from an informal approach to mentoring since she has been at UH.
“I was a little bit disappointed that when I came to my college and I wasn’t assigned a mentor,” said Kovach.
She eventually received an email and later attended a pilot program about mentoring, ultimately fostering with her mentor, Holly Hutchins.
Kovach wanted to give back in the same way she benefited from previous mentoring programs and started giving suggestions about mentoring when new faculty arrived.
She took part in developing a peer mentoring program in her college, which holds informal, brown-bag lunch events to address common issues. The various topics range from ideas about rubrics and peer evaluations to increasing student writing competency and handling disruptive student behavior.
Kovach recommends that everyone find a way to take part in a mentoring program, whether they are formal or informal.
“I would encourage you all to get involved in whatever ways possible,” Kovach said. “I have benefited from a lot of informal mentoring.”
Some faculty in attendance voiced concerns about the absence of a mentoring program in their department, along with funding for such programs.
Hutchinson offered some cheaper suggestions involving internal support, which included partnering with other departments who have grants and using the work-study program to obtain a graduate assistant.
Pinksy suggested that new faculty contact their department chairs directly, because they may not realize that there is a strong desire for the program.
Kovach said senior faculty members are usually open to ideas because they want to revitalize the department with fresh ideas and newer members.
Networking can play a key part in developing thriving mentorship programs.
Patrick Leung, a professor in the Graduate College of Social Work and previous chair of the Faculty Advancement Task Force, said that the UCW could be a useful resource for putting a department program into action.
“Externally, I think that the UCW would probably take a very good lead in terms of networking people outside of the college or department so they are more able to speak on issues that are sensitive within their own department,” he said. “They can consult outside people.”
Second-year faculty member in the department of Biology and Biochemistry Chin-Yo Lin said that although his department does not have a program, he would be interested in one.
Lin said he would have liked more deans and administrators to have attended the discussion, because junior faculty are missing resources that they could have at different department and college levels to contribute to the mentoring process.
“Just having that gives us confidence that, yes, this is a priority,” Lin said.
While he said he has been patient, Lin said he would benefit from knowing the departmental expectations and general information about the process to gaining tenure.
“I was envious of the colleagues in the departments that were represented here on our panel, knowing that we have three chairs here who are cognizant of the need for mentoring,” said Lin.
Kate Anderson, a first-year UH faculty member, is an assistant professor in the English and linguistic departments.
She offered a different perspective that roots in her four years of teaching experience in Singapore.
“It’s learning what counts here, here being not just the institution, but obviously our own department,” said Anderson, who advocates the informal mentoring programs.
Anderson said a basic infrastructure which provides the opportunity for new and tenured faculty to take part in a program would be nothing but beneficial.
“Interconnectedness across disciplines is the wave of the future,” she said. “If we can find ways to connect with our peers across departments, across colleges, and across the University as a whole, everybody benefits from that.”
Administrators or faculty that have questions about mentoring or want to read about successful programs can visit the UCW website at http://www.uh.edu/ucw.