“Get the students to do the work”

Back in 2008 when I first committed to developing a mentorship program for my first-year college advertising students, one of the first people I went to for advice on how to go about it was the associate dean at the business school where I work.

“Get the students to do the work,” said John Conrad. “You provide guidance, but get them to figure it out.”

So that’s what I did. With the help of fellow business professor Kathy Patterson, I challenged my first-year students to develop the Fuse mentorship program, which for each of the last three years has paired about a dozen second-year Advertising students with communications professionals in their field of interest.

April 2009 Fuse mentorship mixer: students met their mentors for the first time

The student founders did a great job. With a little help from Kathy and I, they elected leaders, formed an executive, marketed the initiative—even getting big coverage from the local daily newspaper and radio stations—and developed guidelines. Using their own initiative, they developed a logo, found a sponsor to pay for a banner, and held a suave mixer where they introduced themselves to their mentors.

Fuse 2009 co-chair Cory Firth speaks to the crowd in front of the Fuse banner

Now entering its fourth year, Fuse has had a good run and many students have benefited from it; several have made effective industry contacts in their mentors and some have even found employment or work placements through their mentors.

However, Fuse has experienced a few challenges that must be addressed:

1. Some students don’t seem to appreciate the value of their professional mentor and some unceremoniously dumped theirs this year. These mentors are busy people and this treatment threatens not only my professional relationships with these mentors but also jeopardizes the whole Fuse mentorship program and the opportunities of future student participants. So somehow we need to recruit only students who will fully appreciate—and deserve—their mentors.

2. Some mentors found out they weren’t able to commit to the one meeting per month pledge they made at the beginning of their mentorship relationship. So we need to find a way to recruit only mentors who are willing to dedicate that one hour per month to our student participants.

3. The Fuse mentorship program could be so much more. Last year, I met with a communications professor in the Police Foundations program who runs a peer mentorship program where second-year students mentor first-year students. Lidia Dorosz wanted to add a professional mentorship element to her program, so she asked for guidance about how we run Fuse. Lidia’s idea to run a two-tiered program got me thinking while I was at StFX this summer and looking to study mentoring as the research subject for my Masters of Adult Education. During my research, I concluded that student participants in Fuse could experience transformative learning alongside career help and guidance if we added a peer mentoring element to the initiative.

4. While we tried to keep Fuse fairly unstructured, some mentors said they’d like more structure for their meetings with students. So Fuse needs more structure, such as training and meeting agendas.

Fuse founder Jessica Scott and Fuse superstar Gui Bermejo at the Fuse 2009 mixer

Clearly, Fuse needs an overall transformation. It needs more structure, mentors need to be better informed of their responsibilities, and students need to learn a sense of accountability and the importance of giving back before receiving, and transformative learning could be part of all of this—for both the mentor and the student. All participants need to somehow grow from their experience in the program.

And who’s going to develop and run the revamped version of Fuse? Well, I was going to do it. Somehow I was going to fit this project into my busy life as a new father (our baby is at this moment crying in my living room behind me), full-time M.Ad.Ed. student, busy business writing consultant, and partial load teacher (which means I teach almost full time but get paid like a part-timer).

With all this on my plate, revamping Fuse felt like a monstrous, near-insurmountable task.

Then Kathy Patterson came along and offered to make the Fuse upgrade a project for a team of her first-year advertising students. Bright, enthusiastic students Alannah and Katie have volunteered to develop the new program this semester and run it next year. I’ll be their staff adviser and Kathy will also provide some guidance. I’m excited to work with them and to see just what kind of magic they can work.

I am completely confident in their ability as I taught them last year and, if anyone can do this, they can. At the same time, it was first-year students who created the original Fuse.

So why not do it again? Why not look to the students again and get them to do the work?

Indeed, because they can.

About teachingteacher

Business communications instructor, journalist, corporate communications writer and media trainer ... and Masters Candidate M.Ad.Ed.
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8 Responses to “Get the students to do the work”

  1. K. Patterson says:

    Well said. Hope you don’t mind if I share far and wide…

  2. Cory Firth says:

    Agreed, great work Frank, from beginning to end, you have helped a lot of students make big connections in the Kingston community

    • Thanks, Cory. And you’ve earned every single connection that you’ve made over the past few years. You’re one of the self-made superstars, Cory, and I’m one of your biggest fans. I appreciate the comment!

  3. Jessica Scott says:

    Great post! It’s a unique program with unique challenges, I’m definitely going to follow up with you to find out what the team comes up with as a solution!

    • Thanks for your comment, Jessica. Indeed, you’re another one of our Fuse superstars. Fuse owes much of its success (and birth!) to you. You’re a great role model. I’ll keep you posted, Jessica.

  4. landersmatt says:

    Awesome post Frank. I really owe it to the program, it has opened a lot of doors for me. Happy to report that I currently work with my mentor, Kelsy and have met other professionals that I consider mentors as well. I will watch out for the Fuse revamp!

  5. Thanks for the comment, Matt. I heard that you have continued your relationship with Kelsy and 14Theories and that you have a real knack for event management that surprised you! I’m happy to see you thriving, learning, and experiencing such a great mutually positive with your mentor and her network. Right on, Matt!

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