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 Mentorship Brings Innovation, Personal Touch 

by Madeline Patton 
Community College Times
October 16, 2001
 
 
Gina Mounfield, a computer software specialist by training, thinks of herself as a “conduit” in a small, but growing network of mentors among community college technologists.

She and a dozen other participants in the network gathered recently in Washington, D.C., to talk about their experiences with formal mentoring programs and to assist the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) in its efforts to foster these working relationships.

“I can’t tell you how valuable this process has been,” said Mary Jane Curran, coordinator of the environmental technology program at Cape Cod Community College in Massachusetts. She linked new administrative support for Geographic Information System (GIS), workshops for public school teachers and students’ mapping of a campus arboretum to a campus visit by mentor Gail Hobbs, a geography professor at Pierce College in Washington.

“We just kept her talking all day and wrote down everything she said,” said Tora Johnson, adjunct environmental technology professor at Cape Cod who is developing the GIS curriculum there. “She took the material I had been working on to a higher level.”

Other professors reported that their mentors increased the visibility of their technology programs, improved their colleges’ connections with industry, helped them develop potential new programs and evaluate the performance of their existing programs.

Not just those who give advice benefit from mentoring. “Very often when I’m answering somebody else’s question, it makes me think about how we answer those same problems in our college,” said Joy McMillan, associate dean of Madison Area Technical College in Wisconsin. She served as a mentor to Clifton Community College in New York and the Community College of Southern Nevada.

Positive feedback and expression of support of the Advanced Technological Education Mentoring Program echoed throughout the workshops Oct. 3- 4. The meeting was held in conjunction with National ATE Principal Investigators Conference 

AACC hopes to expand the mentoring program to 10 more colleges with a new round of funding in January. The grants, averaging $2,000, pay for mentors to travel to their advisee’s college and other professional development expenses.

“There is value, that we see and that their mentors have talked about, in the networking and sharing of ideas,” said Lynn Barnett, AACC director of academic, student and community development.

Mounfield said that her “multi-generational” experience in mentorship illustrates the synergy created when more experienced educators share their professional experiences with younger faculty in one-on-one meetings and through correspondence.

For several years Mounfield, who was recently promoted from chairman of the IT department at Midlands Technical College in South Carolina, to vice president for career projects, has been the grateful recipient of advice from her mentor, Gordon Snyder.

Snyder is a computer hardware specialist who heads the Northeast Center for Telecommunications Technologies, which is the NSF’s Advanced Technological Education program at Springfield Technical Community College in Massachusetts.

Mounfield and Snyder were paired by Working Connections, an AACC program supported by Microsoft to encourage IT careers among underrepresented student populations. With Snyder’s encouragement Mounfield applied for and received an ATE grant. In 1999 Mounfield became a mentor to Chaffey College in California, which was awarded an ATE Mentoring grant.

Now faculty at Springfield and Chaffey are working together on another NSF project. Many of the advancements at the three institutions—including new technology centers at Midlands and Chaffey—would not have happened without the exchange of ideas and experiences through mentorship, Mounfield said.

The relationship between participants of the mentor program have survived personnel changes at the colleges.

Janice Padula, science division chair at Clinton Community College in New York credits Joy McMillan’s persistence in continuing the mentorship after the initial grant recipient left.

“Without the grant, Lynn probably never would have been hired,” Padula said referring to Lynn Fowler, who was recently hired as associate professor of biochemistry and biotechnology at the northern New York college.

“It’s not just me. It’s not just Janice, but there’s merit in what you see going on in the organization,” McMillan said.
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