Akin to priesthood or medicine, mentorship calls on some to be guides through the seasons, helping their mentees navigate the murky waters of life.
Between the 27th and 28th of September, mentors gathered for Strathmore University’s inaugural Mentor’s Summit. Our very own homegrown mentors who cater to the wellbeing of Stratizens showed up in droves, eager to deepen their understanding of the generation they mentor. We were also joined by mentors and counselors from other universities in the country, including Zetech, Riara, and Kenyatta University. To offer a different perspective, mentors of younger demographics, drawn from primary and secondary institutions, participated in the summit. Additionally, industry mentors who interact with the students in a professional capacity rounded off the group.
The topic of the day was ‘Promoting the Mentoring Culture in our Universities’. Right from the beginning of the first day, the energy was electric! It was evident that everyone was eager to learn and make connections – isn’t that the essence of a summit? Being at the forefront of student life, Paul Ochieng’, the Dean of Students, was naturally the perfect choice to inaugurate the summit. “We are here to learn from each other’s experiences because learning never ends,” he said, speaking to one of the University’s core values – lifelong learning. He reminded the participants that there’s always a chance to learn from their mentees, a form of reverse mentoring if you will.
Dr. Vincent Ogutu, Vice Chancellor at Strathmore Univeristy, a man who himself has had mentors walk with him, nurture and challenge him through different phases of life, gave the keynote address for the first day. He focused on the aspect of Finding Meaning through Work, and what better way to do that than to take up mentoring? “There are many different dimensions of a human being, meaning that there are many areas to help a mentee flourish – what can you best give your mentee?” He leveled this challenge at the mentors gathered, sharing his personal experiences of how his mentors have helped him in the different dimensions.
“If someone were to ask me if there is a silver bullet or simple solution to find meaning, the closest I have ever found is one question; What difference do my actions make in somebody else’s life? If you can’t find an answer to that question, your life is not as meaningful as it could be,” Dr. Ogutu emphasised.
Dr. Ogutu urged mentors to get involved with their mentees, find out what they are interested in, relate them to their interests,and connect to them in that way. “Let them be their own person – get into their lives and see their interests as valid. Don’t come top down and tell them what is what; allow them to see the attraction in the ideals you expose them to.” Quoting Bishop Barron, he said, “The good, the true and the beautiful are interchangeable. If you want to win somebody over, don’t start from the truth, it will just sound like another rule. Tactically, start from the beautiful, then go to the good, and finally the true”.
Attendees were inspired to be to their mentees what Dr. Ogutu’s mentors were to him, after which the day progressed into roundtable discussions and an open mic session. At the roundtables, the mentors discussed some of the questions put forward by the Strathmore Mentoring Services department. Some of the issues up for debate included what mentors should prioritize most in their interactions with their mentees and the issues young people face today. Each table presented their discussion points and got to hear other perspectives.
After a sumptuous lunch, the summit continued with an insightful panel discussion – ‘I am here for you’. Five short words that communicate to the mentee that trust and communication will be prioritized throughout the interactions. Each panel member had nuggets to share, making it an all round educational experience. The key takeaway? The role of a mentor is to help the students become more human. Given the evolving circumstances under which they live, mentors need to be equipped with an understanding of what is changing, and what that means for the mentees.
Day one wrapped on a high note, leaving big shoes for day two of the summit to fill.
The second and last day of the summit did not disappoint. Starting off strong with another roundtable session, the attendees unpacked the learnings of the previous day, building on the insights with their personal experiences. The concept of peer mentoring was discussed in depth. The pros and cons of having older students mentor the younger ones were weighed and discussed, and floated as a viable tool in the mentor’s repertoire.
A second panel was convened, consisting of mentors from primary and secondary schools, and institutions of higher learning. They picked up where the first panel had left off, discussing the continued importance of mentoring to the youth. Throughout the discussions, a common thread appeared – parents are the first and most important building block of any student’s formation. Therefore, the role of the institutions and mentors is to walk with and support the student as they build on that foundation.
The summit closed off with a keynote address delivered virtually by Dr. Jean Rhodes, Director of the Centre for Evidence Based Mentoring at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She shared insights that highlighted the universal importance of mentoring, and how even continents apart, the young mentees share similar experiences and therefore, the mentors can learn from one another.
Dr. Rhodes highlighted three main things that she has found, through research, make mentoring effective;
- When it is delivered by credible and well trained peers, the effects of peer mentoring surpass those observed in adult mentoring, provided the peer mentors had the right training and support.
- Mentoring programs focused on specific challenges and goals. The purpose is to shift mentorship from being viewed as relationship-as-intervention to relationships as context for target, evidence based interventions.
- Mentoring needs to foster a sense of belonging from the beginning. The absence of that feeling may lead to the student not succeeding.
It is safe to say that as the group photo was taken and the attendees proceeded to the closing cocktail, the mission of the summit had been achieved. The mentors had come together with the aim of sharing insights and experiences in an effort to understand their Gen Z mentees, thus making the mentoring process more holistic and positive. The end goal was creating a vibrant mentoring culture in institutions across the country and beyond.
This article was written by Celia Kinuthia.
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