As the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Alumni (WGFA) Community continues to grow and evolve, colleagues are tackling more and more “Big Issues” in their local, national and international Jewish communities. As we endeavor to do so, extra resources have been developed to fortify our Wexner community’s internal health and strength. Thanks to The Wexner Foundation’s partnership with the Jim Joseph Foundation, a year-long mentorship program was launched two years ago to leverage the deep and diverse talent that has been nurtured by almost 30 years of the Graduate Fellowship Program. This content-rich program provides a framework for continuing personalized support and learning.
Now in its third year, a new cohort of alumni mentor volunteers has been paired with alumni mentees. The new pairs launched their mentor partnership at the conclusion of the Alumni Institute a few weeks ago, in an intense day of training with Consultant Rae Ringel (WGFA, Class 9) and Cindy Chazan, Vice President of The Wexner Foundation. Rae and Cindy will continue to provide guidance to the mentorship pairs over the course of the year through targeted webinars, a host of reading and resources that advance mentorship skills and deepen each pair’s relationship, as well as one-on-one check-ins with both mentors and mentees. The program, which also features site visits, will conclude at next winter’s WGFA Institute, at a siyyum intended to foster reflection and achievements. Mentors have the added benefit of a series of coaching sessions with Rae — invaluable!
Cindy and Rae conceived this program, defining it clearly as mentorship rather than “coaching” or “supervision.” As Rae clarified, “while coaching and mentoring use many of the same skills, one is short-term and task-oriented, while the other promises a longer-term relationship. A mentor is usually a more experienced and qualified colleague who can pass on knowledge and experience…The mentoring relationship enables purposeful conversation. It is about learning, not teaching, and both mentors and those mentored grow from the experience.“
That has certainly been the case, according to mentors from Cohorts I and II of the Mentorship Program. In their own words, “being a mentee has been one of the highlights of my leadership training experiences since being selected as a Wexner Fellow more than ten years ago. Even though I have enough years in the field to be a mentor, I wanted the opportunity to be a mentee. I’ve gained tangible skills (conquering certain professionally-related anxieties, reframing how I organize tasks, etc.) while also dealing with bigger picture issues in my career trajectory. My mentor and I have learned a tremendous amount from Rae Ringel’s teachings and suggested readings, which I have also brought into my own encounters with students. I am more confident now not only in my own ‘professional skin’ but also in my understanding of how individuals can grow and change as leaders.”
Another wrote, “my mentor has been a gentle but focused listener. She’s been able to suggest to me, each time we meet, a key helpful idea or a frame for organizing my sometimes disparate thoughts. The match has been terrific for me; we share some common interests and overlap in our personal and leadership styles. I have felt at ease with my questions and vulnerabilities. For me, asking for a mentor was part of a commitment I made to myself to get unstuck from some things, and the goal I think I am successfully working toward is to be able to take action around some of the issues we have talked about.”
On a personal level, I originally anticipated mentoring as being worthwhile but it has far exceeded all expectations! From our first moments at Orientation, my partner and I realized this pairing would produce interesting results because the two of us work in different professional worlds. That became an advantage, as each of us offered original and fresh perspectives. We grew to recognize that much of our discussions revolved around “people skills,” in administrative structures and in outreach. And we have both come to the conclusion that our pairing was inspired.
Like so many other mentors, I’m proud to report that my Cohort II mentee and I will continue to communicate regularly, even as I undertake a relationship with a new mentee in Cohort III.
Wexner has given so much to me and my colleagues, that at this point in my career it’s profoundly rewarding to be able to give back. I appreciate the opportunity as I find myself, once again, receiving, learning and growing through my affiliation with the Wexner Graduate Fellowship.
For information about the next cohort which will be launched in January, 2016, please contact Cindy Chazan to find out how and when to apply. Thus far 104 alumni have participated as mentors and/or mentees.
Nina Butler, a Wexner Graduate Fellowship alum (Class 8), is an independent consultant, working in the fields of communal development and educational reform, as well as disability policy & advocacy. She served as Educational Consultant to the AVI CHAI Foundation from 2006-2010. Nina earned a Doctorate Degree in Educational Administration & Policy Studies, as well as a Masters Degree in Special Education and another in the Art of Teaching. She has more than thirty years of experience with formal and informal education and has lectured nationally and internationally. Nina can be reached at email@example.com.