The University of Maine Rising Tide Center has an important leadership role in facilitating interdepartmental faculty mentoring as part of its mission to advance gender equity.
Since the center was established in 2010, 69 UMaine faculty members have served as mentors to more than 83 colleagues who joined the university community in recent years. The initial focus on women STEM faculty, as required by the National Science Foundation, has expanded to include all UMaine new and current faculty members, providing support and aiding retention.
In fall 2012, Balunkeswar Nayak, assistant professor of food processing in the school of food and agriculture, was one of those new faculty members. He says his mentor Sandra Caron, UMaine professor of family relations and human sexuality, helped “guide me in the right direction” during what he describes as a critical time in 2013–14.
“I had challenges understanding my teaching evaluations and students’ behavior,” Nayak says. “Some of the challenges included teaching new courses with students from more than three disciplines and at different levels of understanding.
“[We had] open discussions on my teaching style, maintaining high standards in the class with such an array of students, and understanding the evaluation process,” Nayak says. “My teaching has improved since then, with excellent quantitative and qualitative comments from the students. I have been able to design and teach many optimized and balanced courses that [can be] solely credited to my mentor.”
Other faculty have noted that the benefits of mentoring by more senior colleagues include increased professional development — from discussions of best practices in teaching and interdisciplinary collaborations to gaining greater understanding of UMaine organization. Such mentoring also supports career advancement and reduces professional isolation, improving job satisfaction.
“Mentoring needs to exist in all phases of the faculty career,” says Susan Gardner, director of the Rising Tide Center. “Whether learning how to connect in the community or seeking advice on preparing for promotion, mentoring is important and there’s plenty of research that shows it does make a difference in retention.
“For senior faculty, it’s also about giving back. Mentees find it helpful and mentors find it rewarding. It’s all part of fostering change in the campus climate.”
In 2013, The Rising Tide Center piloted a targeted mentoring program designed to formalize the process. In his 2000 book, “Advice for New Faculty Members,” Robert Boice noted that informal, spontaneous mentoring only occurs for a third of new faculty. And of the organic mentoring pairings, Boice says the majority die “an early, natural death” due to faculty members’ inherently busy lives.
At UMaine in 2011, nearly 26 percent of UMaine’s assistant professors noted that they did not receive mentoring regarding the tenure process from senior colleagues. By 2015, the percentage was reduced to 17 percent with the help of targeted mentoring.
The focused commitment is designed both to benefit faculty members and to supplement mentoring provided by departments. Based on their interests and experience, senior faculty volunteers are assigned a mentee to share their expertise. Junior faculty select topics to develop skills in specific areas of academia, such as establishing a research program, preparing competitive grant applications or establishing a reputation as a scholar. A list of the current targeted subject areas is online.
On its mentoring website, the Rising Tide Center connects mentors and mentees, and provides resources. In addition, Gardner leads a New Faculty Mentoring workshop, providing additional resources for mentors.
The center’s goal is to expand its targeted mentoring efforts to one day provide resources for undergraduate and graduate students, and postdocs, Gardner says.
“We have an acute sense at UMaine about the importance of getting and keeping faculty,” Gardner says. “The more we can invest in new people feeling more connected and successful, the better for their academic departments and the future of the university.”
Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745