I’m often asked by my Curry College colleagues and students, “Why do you teach?”
Logical question given that, even today…some 15 years into this profession…I really don’t think of myself as a “teacher.”
Rather, I like to think I’m a guide…a conduit…leading young men and women from four years of college studies to and through the doorway to their future in public relations or another field.
For the longest time, I didn’t really know what this role actually was called. “Advisor” seemed to work. “Reality checker” has often been a closer description!
To quote the venerable sage Sheldon Cooper from “Big Bang Theory,” “Bazinga!”
So that’s what I’ve been doing! I’m regarded as a “mentor”!
It’s ironic that I’m talking about it right now because, among other things that I’m involved in with PRSA, as a member of the organization’s College of Fellows I am co-chair of our Mentoring Committee.
One of the activities that I helped organize for this year’s conference is what we refer to as “Mentor Match,” a program through which we connect members of the College…all seasoned PR veterans representing the upper echelons of the public relations profession…with newer members of PRSA who are at a point in their own careers where they realize they need a sounding board to make sure they’re on the right track.
As I’ve reviewed “mentee” requests for a “mentor,” I’ve been struck by the value that the mentee puts on the opportunity…and vice versa for the mentor. I’m excited because nearly two dozen mentees and an equal number of mentors were introduced to each other via email and met in person for the first time during PRSA’s recent International Conference.
Another irony is that I, too, got a major boost at the start of my own professional career thanks to my own mentor, my internship supervisor at the US Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Public Affairs Division…Clinton Parks.
I’ve written about Clint before, and I’ll do it again in the future. Just let it be said that he tracked my budding government public affairs career for nearly two years after I had officially become a permanent employee and wasn’t his “official” responsibility. He didn’t poke and prod. He just, in his own quiet way, let me know that he was there for me if I needed advice or needed to talk.
I’ve tried to be like Clint with my own advisees and others. I’m not an “in your face” presence. But they know I’m always there, regardless of where I might actually be…Taipei, Georgia, Singapore…on a flight to Indianapolis.
And I’m not a mentor to each and every student who comes to me for advice. In some cases, it’s a simple “what should I do?” But, in others, it’s “where will this decision take me?” And that’s a whole ‘nother question.
It’s one thing to help a student decide on one course over another. But when your answer morphs into “and here’s what taking that course means for your future,” the relationship has taken a more committed direction…the two of you are charting out a career/life trajectory that goes way beyond college.
Please note that this in no way is being a “stalker.” I, for one, let the student decide if he or she wants to take our relationship to the next professional level. The student connects with me. And the frequency of communication lies with the student as well. The relationship is organic, not manufactured.
Mentoring is a rewarding experience. I take genuine pride in seeing or hearing about a student’s successes. And I empathize when he or she hits a bump in the road and suffers a setback. Been there; know the feeling.
So, regardless of where you are…just starting out in your professional career or savoring the benefits of having achieved a level of comfortable success in your own career, give my words some thought.
If you’re a member of the Public Relations Society of America and feel as though you really could use some advice and guidance from someone who’s been down the path before you, request a mentor today. We’ll take your request and connect you with someone who we believe will best be able to assist you.
If you’re a college student, take a close look at the professors with whom you come in contact. See if there is someone whose background and experience seems to mirror what you think you would like to do. Then reach out to him or her. If you don’t ask, you won’t get!