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Become a Mentor
Who is a Mentor?

While there are many different ways of answering the question of who is a mentor, a basic definition with which we can begin is that a mentor is a special kind of helper who works with others in a positive, constructive way so that both mentor and protégé have the potential to grow through the relationship.

The OMSLD approaches mentoring as the means of offering a variety of services to undergraduates throughout their educational career at IU. The program takes what's called a 'developmental' approach, which in everyday language means that we're working to create services that support students as they grow, learn, and mature through their living and learning experience at IU.

Therefore, a mentor with the OMSLD is an individual who creates a paraprofessional working relationship with students aimed towards personalizing and improving the quality of student life and learning.

So, How Do Mentors Fulfill Their Role?

As we consider what mentors do that leads to achieving the goal of 'personalizing and improving the quality of student life and learning,' it's important to realize that:

  1. many of the same things we do in everyday life to 'help others are similar to the role of a mentor, and
  2. it is a mentor's responsibility to take what we do in everyday life and develop those 'helping' abilities into a set of paraprofessional mentoring skills.

Some of the things that one might do to help a friend who's having a hard time might include:

  • providing information and advice based on your experience and ideas;
  • encouraging him or her to take a healthy, positive, and constructive risk;
  • 'being there' just to listen and understand;
  • offering honest and positive feedback;
  • planning and thinking with her or him about how to work through a challengingor confusing situation;
  • sharing different points of view to understand an issue or problem from as many different ideas and ways of thinking as possible; and,
  • making use of multiple perspectives to base decisions in choosing from the best of all the options, creating an action plan, and following through with that plan.

Helping, providing, encouraging, being there, offering, planning, sharing, and making ? these are all things we do to help one another as we grow, learn, and change through everyday living and learning. And, in large part, this list provides another dimension of understanding who is a mentor and what he or she does. But, we need to go further to understand what it means to become a skilled mentor.

Building on Everyday Life Experience to Become a Skilled Mentor

The second part of how mentors fulfill their role is to understand that through training, support, and supervision, we take the ways we help others in everyday life and use those abilities as the basis for developing and applying a set of 'paraprofessional' mentoring skills. In the end, it is these skills and the ways in which we put them together that defines our unique and individual mentoring styles. Here are two examples.

'Being there' just to listen and understand

Listening is a skill that for most of us is unconscious; we just do it. However, there are ways to sharpen our listening skills to more fully understand what someone is saying, what they mean, and how they're feeling.

For example, if in a conversation, we hear another person say how excited she or he is about an upcoming event, but as they're talking, the tone of their voice drops and they look down instead of making eye contact. Listening to the whole person, there are messages that don't match. In conversation, the skilled mentor follows up on these inconsistencies to more fully understand how the person is really feeling in anticipation of the event.

Planning and thinking about how to work through a challenging or confusing situation

Life at times puts us all in challenging or confusing situations, and it's hard to understand what we need to do next to get through them.

In the helping professions, this would be referred to as goal setting. Along with helping another person think through specific steps for working through a such situation, a skilled mentor would also be thinking about ways of helping the person clarify short term and long term goals, how today's actions move him or her either towards or away from achieving these goals, and the specific kinds of support and resources that will be required for the person to successfully work through each step of the action plan to completion.

Along with listening skills and knowing how to assist others in setting and achieving goals, additional areas for the mentor to develop paraprofessional skill and expertise would include:

  • facilitating a professional, working relationship protecting privacy, maintaining confidentiality, and establishing appropriate boundaries;
  • establishing trust, rapport, and open communication;
  • being fully aware of how actions are demonstrations of our values;
  • understanding and modeling the tools of reflection and self-evaluation;
  • working to understand and be sensitive to the impact of diversity and culture;
  • applying principles, values, and ethics to evaluating the impact of mentoring; and,
  • synthesizing experience and training into one's own emerging mentoring style.

So, Who Is a Mentor?

A mentor is an individual willing to become part of a supportive and diverse community of learners, open to sharing experience, vulnerability, and expertise. A mentor is a person who models the need to continue learning as a life-long adventure.

A mentor accepts the personal and professional responsibilities as well as the challenges of helping. A mentor seeks appropriate supervision, training, and support because it is through these systems that we learn, grow, and are accountable as professionals; and, if we are learning, growing, and hold ourselves accountable as professionals, we will model these same professional values and behaviors to those with and for whom we serve.

A mentor is person who has learned through success as well as challenge. She or he realizes that respect is always an earned commodity; never something simply expected or demanded. A mentor accepts others in humanity ? realizing that 'to err is human and to forgive divine.'

Finally, a mentor demonstrates that learning about best practice in mentoring is the beginning for using everyday abilities and developing them into a set of paraprofessional skills demanded by ethical and professional mentoring practice.


Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs
Indiana University, Bloomington




Office of Mentoring Services and Leadership Development
A unit of the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs
Eigenmann Hall South Room 619
Bloomington, Indiana 47406-7511, Tell: 812.855.3540, Fax: 812. 812-856-0445
Last updated: February 5, 2011 | Comments: smithpd@indiana.edu
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