January is National Mentoring Month, but at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, mentoring is a year-round pursuit and a key component of a well-rounded education.
Why? Because mentors matter. Because academics alone don't guarantee career success. Because networking and practical experience help young people make the right decisions at every crucial turn.
Mentoring is so effective that it has endured since the Trojan War, when — Greek legend has it — Ulysses, king of Ithaca, asked his friend Mentor to take care of his son, Telemachus.
Mentoring offers a springboard to success. Any successful career professional can point to the people who made a difference in their lives, and serving as mentors is their way to pay it forward. Harrisburg University instills a mentorship mindset among full-time students in their first year of enrollment. They begin with assignment to peer mentors — returning students who show them the ropes and help them understand the dynamics of mentoring.
Later, students are paired with community businesspeople who can serve in a variety of ways. Mentors might help students complete classroom job-search and job-shadowing assignments. Or mentors can expand the relationship to include shared attendance at professional events and mixers, visits to businesses and organizations in the student's fields of study and networking. Mentors serve as guides, answering questions, giving advice and helping students to learn more about their field of interest and about themselves.
Sometimes, mentors just listen. HU students report that their mentors provide an objective sounding board at a time in life when just the right word can steer them down the most productive path. Mentors help HU students develop the character traits and skills that employers will demand — reliability, sound judgment, communications, teamwork. Youth mentoring programs can promote improved self-esteem, social skills and career development, and studies even show a 250 percent return on every dollar invested in mentoring.
The development of skilled science, technology, engineering and math professionals has evolved into a national priority. Mentors guide HU students in making sound career decisions that transform them into well-connected, self-guided professionals ready to join and contribute to a STEM-driven economy.
Mentors don't need special skills. Most emulate their own mentors, who offered friendship, guidance and encouragement. HU mentors come from the spectrum of Central Pennsylvania businesses: health care, insurance, government, financial, technology and manufacturing. Though they are busy, they find that mentoring fits neatly into their schedules through morning coffeehouse "get-meet-ups" or invitations to join staff meetings and networking events.
In the end, they find fulfillment by returning the service that their own mentors have given them and by helping a young person start a promising career.
As a previous mentor myself, I know first-hand the impact you can have on a young person. Thus, I encourage you to make it a New Year's Resolution to become a mentor in 2013.
Kim Sprought is manager of experiential programs and career services at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology. For information on how to become a mentor, email Sprought at CareerServices@HarrisburgU.edu.