Mentors wanted

Success stories aren’t hard to come by. Newspapers, magazines, and blogs seem to be constantly reporting the latest breakthrough, like the next AIDS vaccine or the latest milestone achieved by the Human Genome Project.

But it seems that success is rarely achieved through the work of one person alone; it seems like it almost always involves the collaboration of two or more minds. Sometimes that collaboration comes in the form of teaching or mentoring. The word “mentor” has many connotations, but the most relevant one communicates the idea of guidance.

One much-cited example of a good mentor-mentee relationship is the one between the philosophers Plato and Aristotle. The concept of career mentorship has become popular lately, with several career-related bloggers and publications writing on the topic in the last couple of years. Many of these publications, like Forbes, publish lists of tips on how to find a suitable mentor for yourself.

But where exactly do students find a mentor? Is the concept even applicable to us?

Between work, volunteering, and late-night sessions in library cubicles, many UTM students have managed to shift their personal passions and hobbies into the beginnings of an entrepreneurial career, sometimes even a full-fledged start-up. Entrepreneurship in particular seems like a popular trend among students; I went on a search to find some of these students and ask about their experience with mentorship.

One of the students I met was Lesley Hampton, a first-year CCIT student and aspiring fashion designer. Hampton was more than willing to elaborate on her decision to start her own company. Hampton explained how she had enjoyed fashion from childhood, when she constantly watched Fashion Television instead of cartoons. She finally created her fashion start-up after being inspired by Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty exhibition last year.

Hampton talked about how mentorship played a key role in the creation of her business venture. Hampton said that the combination of an internship experience and workshops deeply immersed her in her career as a fashion entrepreneur. The mentorship aspect came up when Hampton talked about her inspiration. “Seeing [my boss’s boutique] flourish has inspired me to dedicate myself to my own brand and boutique after university,” she said.

But career mentorship runs deeper than just inspiration. It can mean hour-long sessions looking over a start-up presentation, or it can mean quick calls on your next career steps. The UTM Career Centre offers a variety of services, including networking nights with people who’ve already graduated from your program and are working in the field. Their job shadowing program also comes close to the concept of mentorship in terms of the kind of information learned. Services like alumni profiles allow students to watch the progression of a recent graduate’s career. Sometimes, it also allows students to communicate with the featured alumni.

But where do you find someone that you can work with one on one? And how do you start?

It seems that students on campus, particularly first-years, are anxious for some sort of mentorship experience. Some students expressed an interest in a program that connects first-year students with upper-years for career advice and workshops.

Hridi Ridwa, a first-year management student, elaborated on her need for a mentor, particularly to battle her confusion—a feeling common among first-years.

“In choosing my university courses, I feel like there was no one to guide me,” Ridwa said. “My parents always thought I would choose a more practical career, but I wanted to go into film studies.”

For students who live on residence at UTM, there is a system similar to a mentorship program. First-years’ residences are usually organized according to academic discipline. Each community has what is called a “rezOne peer academic leader”, or “rezPal”. A rezPal is an upper-year student who acts as an academic role model and go-to person for their community. They hold weekly seminars with their students on topics related to particular academic programs. The topics range from the careers students can pursue with their degree to study tips to what upper-year classes will be like.

However, the rezPal program is more focussed on academics, and it’s also not available to everyone on campus.

Finding a mentor is a challenge, and finding one with the specific qualities you want or need is an even greater challenge.

Commerce student Thivya Nagendrasooriyar emphasized the specific traits she was looking for: someone who’s a leader, someone responsible, someone who takes initiative, and someone who is already successful at their career.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to guide you and show you the ropes of the industry you’re interested in,” she said. “It’s a chance to spend time with someone you admire.”

Whatever the career path or field of study, it seems that students are open to the concept of mentorship. “I would love to see a mentorship program that allowed one-on-one contact with upper-years or professors to build connections and really be comfortable with the decisions you make,” said Nagendrasooriyar.


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