The Art of Mentoring

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By: Kim St. John

Some might think mentoring is easy - that it’s nothing more than showing up and checking a few boxes: 

Meet potential mentee                                                                      ☑

Share professional and educational background information           ☑

Agree to meet a few random times whenever it's convenient           ☑

Add “Mentored student” to your resume                                            ☑

While these steps are important, there are nuances to mentoring that, when done correctly, can transform any student or working professional from good to great. Getting to great requires something deeper than surface level connecting. Great mentoring requires meaningful connections that change lives.

Seeking to create those deeper connections, ACE Mentor Cleveland Program recently went the distance toward creating great mentors by hosting a mentor orientation session at Tri-C’s Jerry Sue Thornton Center in Cleveland. In total, nearly 50 people came to learn more about the ACE mentoring process and how they can use their time, talent, and treasure to provide students with a greater understanding of the architecture, construction, and engineering fields of study and work. ACE Cleveland has over 100 volunteers who contribute thousands of hours to engage, excite and enlighten students.

Many in the room were new/relatively new (first or second year) to the mentoring program, while others were not only returning mentors, but also former ACE scholars ready to become mentors themselves.

In addition to ACE board committee members and ACE staff, orientation speakers included Dr. Michelle Scott-Taylor, an ACE board member and vice president of College Now (the organization managing ACE scholarships), and Dr. Jacinda Walker, designer, instructor, entrepreneur, and founder of designExplorr, a firm focused on creating opportunities to introduce underrepresented youth to the design process.

The session's agenda included a general overview of the mission, goals, and learning objectives of the ACE program, as well as the more nuts-and-bolts administrative policies and best practices.

Warm Up

As an ice-breaker, attendees were asked to introduce themselves with the typical name, organization, and past ACE involvement. But the orientation planning committee added a few additional questions that really got conversations started. One of the questions, "What is one thing you want to do this year in ACE?", set the stage for the engaging two-hour session, and included comments such as:

  • “I want to see how I can help.”
  • “It is rewarding to see how students believe in themselves.”
  • “Looking forward to re-energizing after covid
  • “I want to learn to be a mentor.”
  • “I want to get more students involved.”
  • “Whatever the path, let's give them an experience.”
  • “I want to make a connection with the kids.”
  • “Want to build a stronger team and get students excited and involved.”
  • “If college isn't for them, we want them to know all that's available in the trades.”
  • “I want to help [students] explore appropriate opportunities.”
  • “I want to figure out what students want to know and how they can kick [butt]!
  • “Everyone has an inherent gift. My goal is to help students discover that gift.”
  • “Want to link non-traditional non-conventional opportunities [for the students].”

One returning mentor remarked about mentee families, saying "there's nothing like seeing that look of pride on a parents face when their child receives an ACE scholarship."

There was also a bit of healthy gamesmanship, as a number of returning mentors threw down the gauntlet, declaring team victories before the mentoring year even begins. "This is a very competitive group - we want to win first place," one mentor remarked, while another said “our team is the best – we will be taking Max Hayes to new heights!” Yet another noted that he would be working hard to bring home a competitive victory - because he likes to win!

ACE executive director Glen Shumate welcomed the group, noting "ACE doesn't happen without you. We appreciate you and thank you for your involvement and commitment." Glen added that it all starts with orientation, which leads to student engagement.. After that, he noted, amazing things begin to happen. As an example, Glen said former ACE scholar "Bakari Ballard spoke in this very room when he was a construction management major at at Kent State University, to high school students. An executive with University Hospitals (a major supporter of ACE Cleveland) was there and was so impressed that he offered Bakari an internship with University Hospitals, where he went on to intern for 2.5 years," Glen said. Now working for Gilbane, Bakari looks forward to sharing what he’s learned as one of the new mentors. This is just one example of the magic ACE mentoring creates.

Mental Health Focus

Dr. Michelle Scott-Taylor from College Now spoke about mental health with students post-COVID. "There's been a lot of anxiety and problems with social interactions and interpersonal skills with other students. Some students are less mature because of lost time from COVID; many missed key milestones like prom and homecoming and may act younger than they actually are." Dr. Scott-Taylor, who also serves on the ACE, added that she's also "seeing a lot of ADD and ADHD. Many students are having a hard time focusing," she noted. This is something for ACE mentors to be aware of.

Dr. Scott-Taylor shared several suggestions for mentorship:

  • Build authentic relationships with students.
  • Be observant. Watch what they are playing and what they are doing.
  • Acknowledge differences and by doing so established trust
  • Set high standards; do not pity or feel bad for students. Hold them accountable for their projects and for their work.
  • Give them tasks, because they will come back with pride and ready to prove what they've been able to do creatively. Be engaging get students involved

Engage, Excite, Enlighten

Jacinda Walker, founder of designExplorr, a consulting firm that reimagines the field of design, made the point that “thinking is powerful.” She spoke to the mentors about how to reach architectural students and get them excited and engaged. “We need to make better connections and [provide] a better understanding of what it takes to be in the architecture field.” Her overall message to the mentors? Find ways to engage, excite, and enlighten students and help them along the path toward advancement in the industry. She added that students gain valuable skills even if they do not go into the ACE fields - “they learn best practices through consistency and uniformity.”

As the session wrapped up, mentors (especially those in leadership roles) were encouraged to get the word out within their assigned schools. One of the committee chairs added that mentors should “try to get kids who are extra interested in career exploration events and activities that are interactive.”

Glen also encouraged the architecture, construction and engineering mentors present to make meaningful connections with students to become interested in A/C/E professions.

ACE Cleveland currently has 14 high school programs and provides students with career exposure and experiences in A/C/E and other careers. ACE has served over 1800 high school students and provided over $1.4 million in scholarships to over 1Visit us at www.acecleveland.org or email ace@acecleveland.org.