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Mentoring matches make a difference

By Nancy Hegland

Two women seated at table chatting

Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to have many types of mentors who supported my growth and development as a youth development professional. One was assigned when I started a new position, however most have just naturally evolved as we connected as colleagues. Recently, we started a new mentor program for new 4-H Extension educators, who were matched with colleagues who have been in their roles for at least five years and are willing to commit to the relationship for at least a year.

As my colleagues and I developed the program, we asked ourselves how it could be successful, as well as how much structure and guidance we should provide. While there have been informal mentors, supervisors and colleagues to provide advice to new staff, we believed it was essential to provide a more formal structured program that outlined expectations and roles for both the mentor and mentees. A recent article, Exploring Early Career Extension Agent’s Perceptions of Their Mentors, Best Liked Coworkers, and Organizational Commitment, indicates that more frequent contact with a formal mentor was significantly related to more positive perceptions on the mentoring relationship.

As I think back to the mentor that was assigned to me, I was fortunate that he was intentional in the time that we spent together, meeting for lunch at a halfway point between our two offices located 42 miles apart. He had an agenda, which covered the important topics that I needed to  know at that point in my career. He became a trusted friend and colleague, as well as one of my best friends at work. I believe that I taught him something as well, as a mentoring relationship should be mutually beneficial.

This past week, we launched our mentoring program for new colleagues. We have provided a mentoring handbook outlining roles, expectations and potential meeting topics for a year. Our goal is to provide a professional and personal support system for new educators as they navigate their role, which will lead to staff feeling connected and a sense of belonging within our organization.

What types of mentoring programs have worked for your organization? Have newer colleagues found value in having an experienced colleague as a mentor? How have the mentors benefited?

-- Nancy Hegland, Extension program leader

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