Shelly Sherman and Keisha James are participating in the University of Cincinnati's Mentor Me UC program. The program boosts careers and builds a culture of inclusion for both newer employees and more-experienced staff alike. photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services
Finding career confidence
Staff enrichment is an important part of UC's Strategic Direction, and the Mentor Me UC program is an example that encourages career development, supports diversity and promotes a culture of learning and engagement for employees. Importantly, mentors are gaining as much as their mentees.
By Melanie Schefft
Photos by Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services
March 21, 2018
Sometimes the best way to learn is to teach.
And that is what accomplished staff employees at the University of Cincinnati are finding about their own career progress after mentoring other staff as part of the Mentor Me UC program.
The program, aligned with the staff enrichment goals integrated into the university's Strategic Direction, helps to retain employees, breaks down barriers to confidence, fosters career development and supports diversity, equity and a sense of inclusion for newer staff employees.
Launched last July, the success of Mentor Me UC is proving to be a two-way street. Not only are mentees finding a comfortable place to share their challenges and goals, mentors are also finding career-building potential too.
One participant is Luke Willman, who was already a successful marketing manager when he came to UC Athletics. He joined the Mentor Me UC program to bypass through that pocket of new-job stress that can sometimes hang in the air until one finally finds a comfort and confidence level with a new employer.
“The one-on-one time with a mentor in this program is great for having a comfortable voice to bounce ideas off of without the fear of offending or sounding naïve,” says Willman, UC assistant athletic director of marketing and branding. “After monthly meetings with my mentor who introduced me to folks across campus, it didn’t take me long to see where I fit in my new role in athletics marketing and how the athletics department fits into the university as a whole,” adds Willman about his mentor Joe Harrell, associate vice president for UC Facilities Management.
As fate would have it, Harrell’s mentoring gestures turned into a mutually beneficial relationship, bringing him just as much in return.
"Because of Luke’s marketing skills from previous institutions and my management experience, we shared ideas and came up with a project for facilities that can generate revenue by marketing inside our UC shuttle buses. Instead of looking at bare walls inside campus shuttles, students may soon be viewing visuals for local pizza or Cincinnati chili venues. It’s this kind of collaboration that gets spawned through these productive meetings and new relationships."
– Joe Harrell, vice president of UC Facilities Management
Earlier published research in the Journal of Vocational Behavior shows measurable success for corporate mentorship programs that pair employees with veteran employees who can help show them the way. The evidence suggests these programs boost employee engagement, help train future company leadership, increase diversity and raise rates of worker loyalty and retention.
The findings also support the theory that mentoring is reciprocal and collaborative and not simply beneficial for protégés.
It’s no surprise then that UC is finding success with their program even in nine short months.
The program began when Bleuzette Marshall, vice president of UC’s Office of Equity, Inclusion and Community Impact, was looking to increase career development opportunities and a sense of inclusion for underrepresented staff. She partnered with Shelly Sherman, executive director - HRBP UC Human Resources to create the Mentor Me UC program for staff enrichment in preparation for the university's Next Lives Here Strategic Direction.
Luke Willman, UC assistant athletic director of marketing and branding (L), and Joe Harrell, associate vice president for UC Facilities Management (R) have gained mutual career enrichment through monthly mentoring sessions. photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services
“Right now we have 25 pairs in the program, and I am mentoring another employee in my department,” says Sherman. “We let the mentored parties set their own schedules to keep it flexible and informal. Most people use this resource as a relaxed and comfortable way to build confidence and job efficiency, but there are also people who are new to Cincinnati or to higher-ed who want some type of peer mentoring to help them ease into a new city or a completely new industry.”
As a mentor herself, Sherman meets monthly with Keisha James, currently working as a human resources benefits specialist.
“Working with Shelly in this program has opened new network opportunities for me and greater exposure to other areas within human resources,” says James. “It is so comfortable to meet once a month and discuss not only my ambitions, but also my fears with someone who has so much wisdom and experience.”
“Mentoring is about learning. The value and purpose of mentoring for employees is an increase in retention, engagement, job satisfaction and performance. For mentors it can be a valuable tool for building collaborations and fresh ideas for their own career progress. This program can be used to build an effective and diverse organization as it helps level the playing field for all employees to be successful.”
– Shelly Sherman, executive director––HRBP for UC Human Resources
Power of influence
For other staff members –– especially those still working on their education –– looking ahead at the opportunities for moving upward doesn’t always come easy.
But UC maintenance worker Izaiah Johnson has learned first hand from his mentor Dy’an Marinos as she described rising from her earlier career in manufacturing to her current role as a program coordinator in the Office of Equity, Inclusion and Community Impact. She presents educational programming and just completed her doctorate in education.
“This program has been a big step for me because I feel like I needed that push to aim higher for my career,” says Johnson. “I have been in janitorial services since I was 14, so watching Ms. Marinos’ success has helped me see so many possibilities for myself. I now look into similar programs where I can earn certificates and grow in my own career.”
Without the benefits of a mentoring program herself, Marinos learned how to navigate the educational system while developing new career options along the way –– all by trial and error.
“While I rose through the ranks, educating myself while moving into new career positions, I had no mentor," says Marinos. "My role as program coordinator provides wonderful opportunities to engage with large and small groups of people across the campus and Greater Cincinnati communities, but I was looking for a way to connect with individual community members.
"The 'Mentor Me UC' program provides me with an opportunity to give back, to mentor someone in a way I wish I had been coached when I left manufacturing. So working with Izaiah in this way has been extremely fulfilling.”
No matter the level or position, mentors and mentees alike are finding new paths for developing their careers through Mentor Me UC opportunities.
Bleuzette Marshall, vice president of UC’s Office of Equity, Inclusion and Community Impact speaks at the first Mentor Me UC reception in February.