MPA Student Division Launches Mentorship Program

In collaboration with the Membership Committee and New Psychologist Network, the Student Division launched the MPA Mentorship Program on Saturday, April 12 at the Annual Convention. Designed as part of the “Student & New Psychologists track” for the convention, the goal of the Mentorship Program Launch was to provide students and new psychologists (“mentees”) with the opportunity to establish mentoring relationships with experienced psychologists (“mentors”) working in various specialties.  The concept was born out of the strategic retreat in the fall of 2013, when MPA leaders discussed the association’s goals for the following year.  These goals broadly included connection, protection, and growth – the theme of the 2014 Annual Convention.

The strategic retreat buzzed with energy as MPA leaders discussed the benefits of establishing connections across generations and the accompanying challenges for connecting individuals with different interests, needs, and preferred modes of communication.  As always, the membership committee was interested in developing innovative ways for protecting and growing the association, and instead of asking potential members “what can MPA do for you,” the question evolved into “what can you do with MPA?”  The latter question promoted a high level of member engagement, and the leaders continued to discuss ways of tapping into the impressive human capital of MPA.  Eventually, the idea of connecting individuals across professional developmental stages in the spirit of protecting and growing the community of psychologists emerged in the shape of a mentorship program.

The Mentorship Program Launch was a successful event at the convention, as over twenty students and new psychologists gathered to connect with eleven mentors from multiple disciplines.  The mentors worked in a variety of treatment settings, including university counseling centers, private practices, community mental health clinics, hospitals, among other settings.  Also, the mentors reported expertise in working with specific populations, including children and families of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders, LGBT populations, homeless individuals, college students, individuals with sexual concerns, children and adults with AD/HD, among other populations.  Several experienced psychologists expressed interest in sharing their valuable time, insights, and unique expertise with a new or future psychologist, but were unable to attend the session, and they were asked to provide their information for a “mentorship database.”   If mentees have interests beyond the specialties represented at the convention or were unable to attend the session, they may contact the Student Division to access contact information of additional mentors within the database.

At the outset of the session, each participant received a copy of the program guidelines that included “conversation starters” and a space to write notes and contact information.  The session proceeded with a brief overview of the program rationale, guidelines, and learning objectives, followed by the opportunity for students to connect with mentors in a “speed-mentoring” set-up.  Each mentor was “stationed” at a table with a sign that indicated his/her name, credentials, and area(s) of expertise.  Every four minutes, small groups of potential mentees rotated around the room to a new mentor station to engage in conversations and networking.  In the final fifteen minutes of the session, potential mentees had the opportunity to reconnect with a mentor and exchange contact information to begin a mentoring relationship.

As described in the mentorship program guidelines, after the initial connection at the Mentorship Program Launch, mentees are expected to take the initiative to schedule meetings and be sensitive to their mentor’s availability and preferred method of scheduling.  Mentors and mentees are expected to meet for one hour up to four times per year, although mentors and mentees may continue their relationship at their discretion.  In addition, mentees should be permitted to contact their mentors between scheduled meetings.  In essence, the success of the Mentorship Program depends upon the initiative of the mentees and collaboration of the mentor-mentee dyad or small group.  The Student Division has planned to follow-up with the mentors in mid-June regarding the establishment of mentoring relationships and to solicit feedback regarding their experiences with the program up until then.  Over the next few meetings, the Student Division will be designing an outcome measure to assist in the evaluation of the MPA Mentorship Program.

As with launching any new program, feedback for the session was welcomed and much appreciated.  Participants suggested a need for improving the mobility of mentees and the layout of the furniture in the room.  Changing the layout of the tables and chairs may promote smooth and efficient transitions for mentees traveling from mentor to mentor.  One suggestion was to fashion the tables and chairs into a “U” shape rather than maintaining the traditional conference style set-up.  Another suggestion was to assign numbers to participants as they entered the room, in order to form more consistent group sizes.  To increase the richness and efficiency of the session, one suggestion was to ask the mentors to briefly introduce themselves to the larger group at the outset.  These introductions may yield more time for engaging in conversations regarding their expertise and interests in mentoring, rather than requiring mentors to re-introduce themselves to each new group of potential mentees.  Despite the success of the inaugural Mentorship Program Launch, the Student Division has planned to implement several of these changes in the procedures for next year and is very excited about improving this program.

If you have additional feedback or suggestions for improving the MPA Mentorship Program, or are interested in information about becoming a mentor or mentee, please contact CJ Swanlund, Student Division Co-Chair at [email protected].

CJ Swanlund is a second year student in the Psy.D. program at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota and the Co-Chair of the Student Division of MPA.

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