The increasingly treacherous and unpredictable nature of professional development after college necessitates a support system for the new graduate. This vacancy has traditionally been filled by mentors both professionally and personally. Toward the end, this article demonstrates the practical application of a required meeting with a business professor who initiates this mentoring process through a relaxed, non-judgmental, and decidedly friendly encounter in the professor’s office. The meetings are required, compensated with attendance points, and generally are filled with conversations about sports, hometowns, or post-graduation plans. This provocative and proactive approach initiates a dialogue that serves as an icebreaker for future topical discussions of the student’s plans, job searches, and opportunities. These meetings are rhetorically referred to as “Rock the Doc”.
Why Does Mentoring Matter?
There have been many studies identifying the positive relationship between adolescents transitioning to adulthood and the presence of strong supportive figures beyond the traditional familial relationships (Darling, Hamilton, & Niego, 1994; Scales and Gibbons, 1994). Informal contact with professional adults who openly reinforce societies’ standards and avenues of success helps young adults transition to adulthood more successfully, overcome barriers to success, and avoid engaging in anti-social behaviors (Hamilton and Darling, 1996).
While in the university setting, students’ personal predisposition is determinant of the likely sociocultural and academic pace of adjustments to the new community (Hamilton and Darling, 1996). Faculty members who, likewise, reinforce the academic communities’ values play a key role in students’ maintaining good grades, having a more successful and engaging college experience, and developing better insights into their post-graduate decision making (Tinto, 1987). As a result, many colleges have organized formal mentoring programs. While some quantification in earlier models for the significance of mentoring programs does persist, mentoring continues to be a dominant model conceptually in the design and implementation of retention programs (Hu, 2010).
Additionally, the acceptance of institutional and professorial value systems is dependent on students’ perception of shared social and ethnographic backgrounds. Students need to express their understanding of the application and importance of the proposed values from their perspective culturally (Snipes and Salamone, 2016). This allows students to become more confident in the adoption of an applied valuing that fits with their family history.
Perhaps most importantly, research has shown that the determining qualities of a faculty member’s acceptance by students are not characterized by disciplinary content, past experiences, or academic standing in the university. Rather, it relies on the availability, empathy, tolerance, honesty, and respect demonstrated by the professor (Bernier, 2005). Rock the Doc is an attempt to emulate those programs in that it provides an informal opportunity to communicate with students outside the classroom and develop long term relationships that extend beyond the college experience.
Importance of Starting Early
One of the most significant outcomes to formalized mentoring programs is in the persistence of students’ determination to finish their course curriculum and graduate (Hu, 2010). The concept of persistence in mentoring is related to three specific influences. First was the actual number of meetings students had with college mentors. Second was the number of times students sought out the professor and turned to their mentors for support and encouragement. Third, the students’ perceived importance of a positive mentoring experience strongly influenced their decision to persist (Hu, 2010). Regularly scheduled sessions with students, especially early in the student’s academic career, can dramatically improve GPA in as little as one semester (Lee, 2014). This is especially true where the student is defined as high-risk academically.
Women are most influenced by mentors late in adolescence and are more likely to be influenced by those professors who are supportive of self-esteem issues and psychological growth that enable students to transition through school interpersonal dynamic expectations and provide a support system outside the nuclear family (Liang, Tracy, Taylor, and Williams, 2002). Acceptance of the mentor’s influence is closely linked to the student’s perception that their background culture is acceptable to the mentor. This necessitates a comfortable environment for both professor and mentee where the stories of their respective backgrounds can be shared and appreciated (Fain and Zachary, 2020). Campbell and Campbell (1997) reported that minority students assigned to professor mentors showed significantly higher-grade point averages and were twice as likely to persist in their education as minority students not in the program. In the case of African-American students, Freeman (1999) found that virtually every student that persisted to the end of their programs attributed their social and academic success to the support of their mentors.
Students are more likely to accept your tutelage and influence if they accept your character. This is especially true in the relationship that is developed between the mentor and the student. Nora and Crisp (2007) identified four constructs that are consistently reported by students as being significant factors in the acceptance of the mentoring influence:
The first construct is comprised of the support systems that provide psychological, moral, and emotional support that embody a sense of listening and identify potential problems while providing encouragement.
The second construct is focused on goal setting and career paths with a focus on both assessment of the student’s strengths and weaknesses while supporting their setting of academic goals, critical thinking, and professional development.
The third construct becomes the academic content support system that centers on the acquisition and development of practical skills and evaluating and challenging the mentee scholastically. This includes development of resources, including research and tutoring to improve overall academic performance compared to learning life skills.
The fourth construct places an emphasis on the sharing of past experiences by the mentor. It relies on the self-disclosure of both successes and failures professionally and personally and the vulnerability of shared feelings between the professor and the mentored students regarding those experiences that demonstrates sincerity to the student.
Mentoring as a Sub-role
Part of the struggle with application of formalized mentoring practices is that with the addition of required skills as a lecturer, researcher, curriculum developer, evaluator and discussion leader, many professors find they are simply not comfortable with mentoring (Galbraith, 2003). However, professors who have allowed, and continue to allow themselves to be mentored are able to transition more easily to recognizing the emotional needs of their advisees (Vlady, 2019). While many definitions for mentoring are forthcoming, the intellectual, psychological, and affective development skills used while maintaining a relatively frequent schedule of interactions with students leaves quantification of the outcomes for mentoring programs undefined (Galbraith and Maslin-Ostrowski, 2000).
Due to many social and economic factors, colleges and universities are under increasing pressure to increase enrollment and improve the graduation rates of students attending their campuses (Lee, 2014). Specifically, persistence and graduation rates are the statistical standard the US Department of Education has determined are consistent with student success and are a quantifiable assessment of the universities’ curriculum programs (Lee, 2014)
Implementing Rock the Doc
As a result of these factors related to enrollment, universities have considered the advantages of organized mentoring programs for their students, especially those considered to be at-risk for continued persistence (Nora and Crisp, 2007). I have used Rock the Doc in all of my face-to-face classes for 14 years. While the premise is greeted with some skepticism, the 30 points and making the visit a required assignment eventually will compel the more academically conscientious to take the plunge and stop by my office.
I always try to be relaxed in my demeanor, never appear to be too busy to visit with them, and try to keep our conversation on topics that seem of interest to the student: Sports, weekend plans, and family. I will ask how the semester is going to provide an opportunity for students to talk about problems they may be experiencing. Solving problems related to grades and performance in class is the first step in assisting students to be successful (Nora and Crisp, 2007). This can carry over into advising about future programs, curriculums, and job qualifications.
Many of these informal conversations result in the student asking for letters of recommendation later in their programs or advice about resumes and cover letters. The intent is to reinforce the idea that mentors have invaluable knowledge about being successful and will impart that knowledge if students will seek them out. It is important to note that the purpose of the Rock the Doc assignment is not necessarily to provide mentoring of the students, but to provide an introductory experience that would lead to a more definite mentoring opportunity in the future.
Professional vs. Personal Mentoring
The expression “it’s not what you know, but who you know” may be increasingly true. Not only are undergraduate ranks as a percentage of overall population steadily increasing, but there are fewer jobs available making it even more difficult to find and secure a position. The difference remains the contacts and networking that provide an integral social and professional advantage in our complex business environment.
Rock the Doc is not an attempt to implement a university wide mentoring program. Rather, it is an attempt to expand the influence I have as both an instructor and an advisor in a professional business capacity. I do not pretend to be a qualified counselor, LPC, or mental health professional. So, my input is limited to supporting students’ decisions regarding academic success, professional development, and personal finance practices. However, this input is predicated on students’ acceptance of me as a professional and mentor and requires an honest and sincere effort to cultivate a relationship with the students during those Rock the Doc sessions.
Implementation of this program over my teaching career resulted in my being awarded Academic Advisor of the Year (2018) among my 300 colleagues by the Student Government Association of Colorado Mesa University.
Every visitor leaves my office with the instruction to report back to me regarding some small detail about their future: Applying to a college, passing an important exam, or some other reason to be in touch with me, again, in the future.
Many other colleagues have asked me about the program, with an eye toward implementing their own version. Where did I get the idea, did I hear about it in a journal or text? Is it a copyrighted phrase? (no).
Between 5-10 students who aren’t in my classes stop by to Rock the Doc every semester. They just liked the experience.
I average about 70-75% participation among Sophomores and 50-60% among Juniors and Seniors. This is likely due to many of the upper classmen already having been in to see me earlier in their enrollment.
Recently, another professor in our department allowed a group of students to do a 4-part series of face-to-face and in-person Rock the Doc topical sessions for a media assignment that was uploaded to our Facebook page for all the student body to see.
The Associate Dean of the School of Business recommended me for an Excellence in Teaching award based, in part, on the Rock the Doc program.
As a result of the relationships fostered by the Rock the Doc exercise, many students feel comfortable enough with our relationship to ask for Letters of Recommendation or Recommendations to attend Grad School.
While many universities do have organized mentoring programs, ours does not. I feel very strongly about the effect of mentoring on my academic career and believe it is an essential component of long-term professional success. As a result, I have committed myself to this concept and support its application at every level of higher education and in our relationships with aspiring young professionals.
It’s important to consider that:
71% of Fortune 500 companies have a mentoring program.
Of those professionals with a mentor, 97% say they are valuable.
79% of Millennials see mentoring as crucial to their career success.
83% of Gen Z wants their supervisors to care about their personal success (Guider, 2022).
Very few of us would be in our current positions were it not for the contribution of some key influences in our lives. Both the obligation and reward are satisfied with the engagement of professors in interpersonal dynamic environments that contribute to our pedagogical development and lay the foundation for the successful transition of the next generation toward more positive and meaningful enterprise.
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