Mentorship is a big buzzword you hear a lot in business school. As college students, we are constantly being encouraged to find a mentor. Find someone in the industry where you want to work. Schedule those coffee chats. Cold message professionals on LinkedIn.
As overused as the word “mentorship” has become, it really is a valuable tool to have. However, mentorship is like dating — you’re not going to click with every single person you mentor or are mentored by. When you do find the right mentor or mentee, it feels amazing and you find yourself looking forward to meetings.
As a senior at the Ross School of Business, I have been fortunate enough to serve as a mentor and to be a mentee. I am grateful to be attending a business school where I am granted access to such a vast alumni network and club resources where I have found remarkable alumni mentors (Go Blue!).
In this column, I will be sharing what I’ve learned from being a mentor and mentee. Having experienced both ends of the spectrum has allowed me to gain key insight into the true value of mentorship.
INTRODUCING THE BA 100 PEER MENTORSHIP PROGRAM
In my time at Michigan Ross, I have served as a BA 100 Peer Coach for about 20 first-year students. BA 100 is a signature learning experience for first-year students at Ross. What makes this required class for first-year students particularly unique is that students are assigned a Peer Coach (mentor) for the duration of the academic school year through the BA 100 Peer Mentorship Program. Students meet with their assigned Peer Coach three-to-four times a semester.
For the majority of first-year students, their BA 100 Peer Coach is their very first “contact” they have at Ross. So, as a Peer Coach, you have a lot of responsibility due to the significant influence you can have on your students and the knowledge that you are able to impart on them.
Rob Bobowski, Curricular Support Coordinator, was a part of launching the BA 100 Peer Mentorship Program and shares some of his thoughts with peer mentorship.
Tran: Why did you want to be a part of the BA 100 Peer Mentorship program?
Bobowski: “Working with students was my biggest motivation. My main goal in all the projects that I work with is to try to make the student experience better. Working with the peer mentors was a great way for me to help students learn from each other’s experiences. I wanted to be sure that the mentors had the support they needed to, not only help their mentees but also learn about themselves and develop tangible relationship-building skills. It also gave me the opportunity to learn from the perspectives of the students and how I may be able to improve their curricular experience.”
Tran: Why do you think peer mentorship is so important?
Bobowski: “A lot of why I wanted to be a part of the program fits with this question as well. First-year students have so much information hitting them when they begin their university experience that it can be very overwhelming. I firmly believe that students listen to each other much more readily than they do faculty, staff, or other old people trying to tell them what they should do. The students that come to Ross have typically, sorry to generalize, not experienced failure. They are used to being exceptional but come in feeling like an imposter. The mentors get the opportunity to share their personal experiences and remind the students that they still are exceptional and to focus on what makes them that way. They help to inform the students that failure is a part of the education process. Having someone who has gone through similar educational experiences gives the mentees the knowledge that they are not alone in this.”
Tran: What do you hope students get out of the BA 100 Peer Mentorship program?
Bobowski: “I hope that the mentors hold onto the learning and experiences that they gain from helping the first-year students. Empathy and honest, purposeful storytelling are amazing skills that this program can help develop. More importantly, I hope the mentors learn how to truly listen to others. These skills will not only help them to create and build new relationships but also strengthen ones they already have. I hope that it teaches them that, as a mentor, they are making an impact and have incredible value to their mentees. Lastly, I hope that by being a mentor, they see the importance of having a mentor or mentors for themselves. Finding your people is beneficial in all aspects of life.”
3 LESSONS I’VE LEARNED FROM BEING A MENTOR
Here are three takeaways I gained from serving as a Peer Coach:
1) How to be an Active Listener
Being a mentor has taught me to be an active and not a passive listener. It takes more than just listening to your mentees share their worries and concerns. You have to actually process what they’re saying and demonstrate that you care by asking questions and engaging in eye contact (even over Zoom!).
By demonstrating genuine interest, the conversations become more organic and natural. You should come to meetings prepared with questions, but you should not follow a script. Otherwise, it’ll make the conversation feel forced.
For example, a student shared with me during our meeting that one of his career interests was finance. I suggested that he consider applying to investment clubs at Ross. I gave him a list of clubs and connected him with people who I knew were in those student organizations. Somehow our conversation veered from investments clubs at Ross to what going to boarding school in London was like. I was just interested in his life and getting to know him beyond just a formal mentorship relationship. Our conversations became more natural and now I consider this student a friend.
2) How to be a “Cheerleader”
One of my favorite things about being a mentor is watching my students develop both professionally and personally in such a short period of time! I love encouraging my students to follow their passions and to apply to different clubs and organizations.
One of my former students, Terence, rushed a business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi (DSP) during his first semester of freshman year. He didn’t get in that semester but got in a different semester. As his former Peer Coach, it made me so happy to see him get into DSP because I know it was an organization that he really wanted to join. He now serves as the fraternity’s vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion and I could not be prouder. (See my Q&A with him below).
3) How to be More Understanding
Through my students, I feel like I am sort of reliving my first year of college. Issues that seem like common sense or are “easy for me” are brand new to them. Being a mentor taught me to view and try to understand things from a first-year student’s perspective. I tried to put myself back in their shoes and imagine what it’s like to suddenly be thrust in business school and surrounded by high-achieving students like themselves.
For instance, I’ve discovered many first-year students don’t know how to use Google calendar. As someone who religiously uses Google calendar and is accustomed to using my calendar for everything, I found myself getting a little frustrated or annoyed that my students did not know how to properly send an invite.
But then I had to realize that even though using Google calendar is a Ross norm, it’s not immediately obvious or taught. How are first-year students supposed to know that this is a norm? As their Peer Coach, it’s my job to show them these little things and to “guide them on their Ross journey”.
MEET A MENTEE: TERENCE HUANG
But don’t just take my word for it. I recently interviewed one of my former mentees to hear his thoughts on peer mentorship and the BA 100 Peer Mentorship Program.
Terence is an international student from Hong Kong and was one of my former mentees from 2019. He was one of those mentees where we just clicked and I looked forward to our meetings. Our relationship developed from a formal mentorship relationship to a real friendship. One time, Terence even offered me a Michigan Basketball ticket for a game he couldn’t attend!
Tran: What do you think is the value of mentorship?
Huang: “I think mentorship provides a perspective from an older peer who has gone through the things you are going through now. Mentors have credibility and applicable advice, especially when it comes to college-related things.”
Tran: What was your favorite part of the BA 100 Peer Mentorship program?
Huang: “Honestly, getting to know my Peer Coach as more than just a “formal” connection. As an international student, I was able to more easily find my footing when coming into college. Also, I became best friends with another student who I met through the program.”
Tran: How has your relationship with your peer coach developed as a result of the program?
Huang: “We have definitely gotten closer over time. To this day, you are still a resource that I know I can count on when I have any questions.”
Tran: What did you gain from this experience?
Huang: “Gaining a person who I can call a friend! Also just perspectives about navigating the Ross culture of business frats and clubs.”