Mentorship circles connect students and faculty
McMaster students get Costco-sized mentorship in the Faculty of Science’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.
Every second-year student is assigned a senior undergraduate student, graduate student and faculty member who volunteer as mentors. The trio of mentors support up to 10 second-year students in a mentorship circle.
That support comes at a critical time as students make Chemistry & Chemical Biology their home department at the start of their second year.
“We’ve found that the transition from first year can be challenging for students in terms of workload, time management and other issues,” says professor Kalaichelvi Saravanamuttu, who helped launch mentorship circles in 2017. “Mentorship circles offer a way of welcoming students and connecting them to members of our department.”
Students and mentors meet in-person twice a term. The meetings give students a forum to ask questions, raise concerns and get advice. Mentors also organize workshops throughout the year on timely topics of relevance to second-year students.
“Mentorship circles engage everyone in a profound and meaningful way,” says assistant professor Lydia Chen who chairs the mentorship circle initiative. “We talk about everything from co-op programs and undergraduate research opportunities to applying for scholarships and networking with alumni. Having senior undergrads, grad students and faculty members as mentors brings different perspectives and experiences to our conversations.”
The communication flows both ways with benefits for faculty and staff, says Lydia. “We get direct and real-time feedback from students on what’s working and what we can do better in our department. Listening to students lets us address their concerns immediately rather than after the fact. So if students tell us that high-stakes assessments are all happening within a short period of time, we can coordinate with instructors to modify scheduling and take the pressure off of students.”
Mentorship circles were proposed by Kalai and then launched in collaboration with colleagues Gillian Goward, William Leigh, Jose Moran Mirabal, Ignacio Vargas Baca, Ryan Wylie, Alex Adronov, Paul Berti, David Emslie, Sharonna Greenberg, Linda Spruce, Paul Ayers, Katherine Bujold, Peter Kruse, Sarah Styler, Anthony Chibba and Rodrigo Vargas Hernandez. The initiative was supported with a Leadership in Teaching & Learning Fellowship Program grant from the MacPherson Institute.
Lydia took over as mentorship circle chair after Kalai was appointed as the Faculty of Science’s first Associate Dean of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Indigeneity.
“Lydia has just been brilliant in taking on the mentorship circles and making it her own,” says Kalai. “I am so grateful for her leadership to our students and department.”
A student is working with Lydia this summer to evaluate the value and impact of mentorship circles.
For more on mentorship circles, contact Lydia at firstname.lastname@example.org.Faculty, Teaching excellence