Start a degree program at American Public University.
By Dr. Jessica Sapp
Associate Professor, School of Health Sciences, American Public University
Most of us spend our early years as a student, all the way from infancy to high school. It is expected that teachers will mentor students, but student mentoring often goes beyond the classroom. Even though you may not take classes throughout your entire life, you should never stop learning.
Whether you are an early careerist or a seasoned professional, you can probably name at least one mentor who impacted your life or career. Just as you should never stop learning, you should also never stop being a mentor for less experienced individuals, such as students.
Strive for Endless Learning to Become a More Effective Mentor
Many great leaders express dedicating time each week to learning. The five-hour rule – devoting at least one hour to learning, five days a week – is used by Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Oprah Winfrey. It is important to dedicate time to our minds and learning, just as we should exercise to maintain our physical health.
Here are some activities you can do to keep learning:
1. Read: Reading helps you gain knowledge that may change your life. Business magnate Elon Musk used reading to learn about rockets and start SpaceX; he has made history in America’s space program. If you don’t have time to sit in a chair and read, consider using audiobooks, which are great for your work commute.
2. Write: Writing has many benefits for your mind and soul. In Psychology Today, writer Gregory Ciotti says, “Writing makes you happier, smarter and more persuasive.”
3. Experiment: Experiments often happen outside of science labs. Breaking the status quo is how we evolve and grow.
Without trying new ideas, we can’t find out what works. This is the foundation of innovation.
4. Start a hobby: Hobbies are fun and an exciting way to learn new things. Many hobbies are low-cost or no cost, so you won’t have much of a financial obligation for a new hobby.
For example, I decided to teach myself to play a guitar a few years ago. With the Internet and online videos, I have become more proficient without spending a lot of money or worrying about scheduling lessons.
5. Reflect: Reflection can include writing or journaling, but just thinking over your accomplishments or challenges is helpful. It’s often easy to focus on the negativity and forget our progress.
Motivational speaker Les Brown says, “You don’t have to be great to get started, but you have to get started to be great!” Reflection also includes visualizing your goals and where you want to be in the future.
How Do You Become a Mentor to Others?
Our knowledge should be shared with other people. Mentoring allows you to guide others and challenge them to be their best. For people just starting out in their careers, having a mentor improves their success by building their skills and confidence.
Not only do your mentees benefit from your wisdom, but you will also improve your own skills. Griffith University information technology director Louise Howard says, “Contributing as a mentor can deliver personal benefits as well, including improving communication or supervisory skills, expanding connections and networks, and promoting self-reflection.”
There are various techniques you can use as a mentor:
1. Listen to the person talking to you: Listening is essential for a mentor. Use active listening techniques and pay attention without judgment.
2. Share your experiences: Your experience is extremely valuable. You will have stories that can’t be taught in the classroom. Sharing your accomplishments, failures and vulnerabilities with mentees is inspiring to them.
Outsiders may think that your journey was smooth sailing, but you know the hard work it took to reach your goals. Discussing your experiences with your protégé is important for him or her to learn and grow.
3. Provide advice: As a mentor, you need to be reserved about providing solutions. However, offering suggestions and provoking your mentees to ask questions can guide them.
When you are a supervisor, it is expected that you will offer solutions when asked. But as a mentor, you should act as a guide, helping your mentee to find his or her own solution. This practice encourages critical thinking and problem solving.
4. Challenge a mentee to expand a comfort zone: We learn best when we are challenged and it often feels more rewarding when we succeed.
Challenge your mentee to take on a project or task that he or she would consider to be out of his or her comfort zone. Make sure the activity is not mission-critical or would create negative backlash if it was not completed correctly.
5. Observe how your mentee behaves: In a mentor-mentee relationship, you are not completing an employee performance appraisal about that mentee. It is important to observe how your mentee works, approaches challenges, works through strategy and develops plans. This is your time to sit back and watch.
6. Provide encouragement: When you are a mentor, it is essential that you encourage your mentees. We want our protégés to prosper and be motivated. You want to celebrate their success.
Where You Can Mentor People
Workplace: A workplace is a common location to be a mentor. You may mentor new employees in your program or an aspiring early careerist in a different department. Sometimes, you may simply inspire others through excellent job performance.
I have always been open to mentoring if someone asks me, especially if it is going to improve my team. Being open to mentoring others enhances a positive work culture and employee engagement.
Internships: Many school programs require internships. I believe this is one of the best mentoring opportunities. Students are excited and optimistic, which tends to remind you why you got into your career field.
Interns are our future leaders. My greatest mentor, who remains my mentor today, was my internship supervisor.
Community work: When we serve our community, we often select organizations or interests we are passionate about. This is a great way to mentor someone who has similar passions. Often, you will be working towards a common goal.
Conferences: There is usually a mix of attendees at conferences. Mentoring doesn’t have to be weeks or months. Sometimes, a lunch meeting will do.
My university sends our department to the American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting. I had the opportunity to meet with a student attendee for an hour and a half. We were matched through the conference program and the student asked me about selecting graduate programs, research with professors, and networking.
Networking events: Being approachable and available for questions are important in networking events. I have met many great people at events. Sometimes, these conversations can serve as mini-mentoring sessions.
The APUS Commencement weekend is also a useful networking event. This year, I talked with a student who was not in my program; she asked me about healthcare.
However, I learned her ultimate dream was to open a hair salon. I gave her advice on programs that may be suited for her, along with resources about business grants and opening a small business.
I have had amazing mentors in my lifetime. They believed in my abilities and challenged me in my career, so I try to do the same for others as well.
About the Author
Dr. Jessica Sapp is an associate professor in the School of Health Sciences at APUS. She has over 13 years of experience in public health, working in various environments including government, hospitals, health insurance, community, international, corporate and academia. Jessica earned her D.P.H. in health policy and management at Georgia Southern University and a M.P.H. in health promotion, education and behavior at the University of South Carolina. She also has a B.S. in health science education from the University of Florida.