Excellent mentoring empowers faculty to be the best they can be. At Old Dominion University's Center for Faculty Development, we recognize that no matter their rank, faculty need mentors, and we strive to build mentoring communities that help faculty members realize their goals and enjoy successful lives.
While one-on-one mentoring can be effective, we encourage faculty members to seek multiple mentors both inside and outside the university. We ask faculty to consider their needs in teaching, research and work-life balance and identify mentors in each of these areas.
The Center also offers advice on teaching, research, and work-life balance via our FacSheet newsletter. Please visit our News page to access our archive.
The Center for Faculty Development is sensitive to the circumstances that faculty often face, and we have considered situations created by the coronavirus. In Summer 2020 along with the Office of Faculty Diversity and Retention, we held a Women's Writing Forum, an online community to help faculty advance their scholarship.
The Center for Faculty Development at ODU helps faculty create mentoring communities by aiding faculty to identify potential mentors. Contact the Director, Annette Finley-Croswhite at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
If you are at ODU and have a peer-mentoring story that you would like to share, please send it to Dr. Annette Finley-Croswhite at email@example.com. Please limit it to 500 words or less.
Stories from our Lives: Faculty Experiences with Mentorship.
When I enrolled as a freshman at Davidson College in 1985, I did so as a chemistry major, intending to go into medicine. In my first year of college, it seemed like I spent every afternoon in a lab. One afternoon, I started heating something on my Bunsen burner and stepped over to the window to look outside. I had this tendency to day-dream - to make up stories about the people I observed -- and I forgot I was in a chemistry lab at all until whatever I was heating exploded and the lab assistant came running.
Lucky for me, I had a friend. I was also enrolled that semester in English Composition, a class I resented having to take because I considered myself a strong-enough writer already. My professor, Dr. Elizabeth Mills, gave me no breaks. On the first essay I submitted for her class, she gave me a C, and when I went to her office to say, "I don't write C essays," she replied, "This time you did." Then she proceeded to show me my patterns: a tendency to begin sentences with prepositional phrases, a penchant for weak verbs. I vowed to improve and to impress her. I vowed to turn my C into an A, and she gave me that chance.
So when my chemistry experiment exploded and the fire alarm went off, and I realized I wasn't meant to be chem major, after all, Dr. Mills was there. She said, "Come on over. You're good at this." I ended up taking four classes with her in four years, studying not just composition, but also the history of the English language, Women Writers, and an Emily Dickinson seminar where she taught me to be a literary detective. She also introduced me to writers who became literary mentors: Flannery O'Connor, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, and more. Dr. Mills provided just the right combination of interrogation and encouragement.
Her support didn't end with graduation, either. She's read every novel I've ever published, including the one coming out next March. She's been reading for me for over thirty years. We didn't use words like "mentorship" thirty years ago. I didn't even know I had a mentor. I had a guide, though, and a tremendous friend who helped me see possibilities in myself that I didn't yet know how to manifest. She saw me. She called me out.
There have been numerous occasions where I have had someone guide me in making the decisions I needed to make. At a personal level, it may have been my first purchase of a car and at the professional level, help on research, a job search and/or job selection. Even now as an Associate Dean, I count on certain people who will not sugarcoat their advice and will tell it as they see it.
I have found help from mentors on many occasions when I have moved into unfamiliar surroundings and new situations, as well as in familiar environments where I needed a second opinion. To me, mentors are individuals who I look up to and trust to give me their honest opinion. From the time I came to the United States to pursue my PhD in Marketing, I have had multiple mentors during the processes of completing my PhD, finding a job, and moving into a new job. Going through graduate school, my friend Anil Rode helped and mentored me by introducing me to the nuances of living in the United States including educating me to American sports including baseball, basketball, and football, helping me with finding doctors when I was sick and providing emotional support when needed. He was always interested in my professional well-being, consistently inquired about my research and teaching, and provided valuable advice on interviewing during my job search. With his background in computer science and an MBA, I found discussions with him to be enlightening as he educated me to the corporate view of things, as I had no work experience in the United States. Here was a person I looked up to, listened to, and trusted; definitely, a mentor!
With my own experiences with the individuals who have helped me, I am a firm believer in mentorship, and try to be a mentor to students and faculty whenever possible. Drawing inspiration from my experiences, I have initiated a mentorship program within my college and have received positive feedback about it.
It's so important to have someone you can count on for professional advice, a first reading, a second opinion, encouragement, reality checks, book suggestions, wine glasses and cake for celebration, a listening ear, a nudge in the right direction. Some of my best teachers have been these and more, and they've been there at every formative stage— From the diminutive third grade teacher with the indomitable-sounding name of Sifora Fang (she plied me with so many books for "extra reading!" and gave the hardest spelling questions) to my college literature professor Del Tolentino (he was one of my first colleagues the year I started teaching, and the one who told me my poems were "ready" - for publication, that is; it may not sound like a lot but this felt like a big deal to me). Another memorable college professor, Chari Lucero, was well known for her acerbic observations. We met again at a conference years after I'd graduated; I had three young children by then, and a marriage that wasn't in good shape. She hugged me warmly and said, "Hello!!! I hear your life is not so exquisite, but that your writing is." I know I got a laugh and I guess some perspective out of that.
When I went to Ateneo de Manila University for my MA in Literature, I took courses with the late Doreen G. Fernandez, one of the Philippines' leading cultural historians and food critics. I quickly understood why she made an indelible impression on generations of students who had received her mentorship: for her, the classroom, the exacting demands of scholarship, literary editing and production, should always emerge out of a sense of our specific connections to place and community. With other colleagues, she was one of the first to volunteer to make and bring food to civilian protesters and soldiers alike during the 1986 "People Power Revolution" against the Marcos dictatorship. Her generosity and kindness were legendary—who knows how many students, myself included, had found temporary shelter in her home, coming and going in Manila; or were the recipients of meals and books and long hours of life conversation?
Carlos Angeles, whose book A Stun of Jewels (Manila: Alberto S. Florentino, 1963), received both the Carlos Palanca Award and the Republic Cultural Heritage Award for Literature, was a Filipino poet I'd read and admired since college. In Chicago, while I was working on my Ph.D. at UIC, Doreen (she was still alive then) introduced me by email to Carlos, and this led to an almost daily correspondence between 1993 until 6 or so years later when he died. I'd gone to Carson City/LA (where he was living at the time) to visit him a few times. He was a late but eager arrival to the internet, and every email I received from him would invariably begin with the question "What have you written today?"
Working on my creative dissertation (a manuscript of poems with a critical preface), I had the good fortune to have the late great Ralph Mills, Jr. as my adviser, just before he retired. I liked how he conveyed without fanfare that it was possible to be both a practicing poet and someone devoted to family. And I will forever be grateful for how, after my dissertation defense and unknown to me, he'd sent his own publisher a copy of my manuscript to discreetly inquire if they might have some kind of interest in such a thing. When they actually called me a few months down the road with a publication offer, I was dumbfounded. This led to my first full-length US publication, In the Garden of the Three Islands (Moyer Bell/Asphodel).
Having these kinds of mentors in my life has made a profound impact on my own teaching. Like them, I hope I will be able to help open doors, listen for depths, make some kind of difference; each student teaches us all so much.
I love learning and I am very fortunate to have many great mentors at ODU. As I first started at ODU on the tenure track I was very conscious that I would need to meet expectations to gain tenure at the university. In my desire to keep on the right track towards tenure I had so many questions, however, my friends and family were very supportive but unable to answer my many questions. I was fortunate to hear about the ODU Women's Caucus and I immediately joined that. This is a group of women that help navigate being a female in the university and in academia. They had pertinent presentations, social events, and they also have a mentorship program which I was able to get a mentor who was very supportive and able to answer my many questions. I also gained mentorship from others in the Women's Caucus, such as Dr. Mona Danner who is a mentor and someone I try to emulate. I cannot speak highly enough of Mona and what one individual person as a mentor can do to support and inspire you. I owe a great deal of gratitude to the Women's Caucus and Mona.
Another place I gained mentorship was from a group called Team Tenure in the College of Education and Professional Studies. This was a group that I set up as I started at ODU. I started at the college in 2013 with a group of about 12 new tenure track faculty members. I quickly realized that I had lots of questions and that the other new people also had similar questions. In one way it was a selfish motive to get support but at the same time I figured it could work as we would all support each other. We worked on the premise that we were not in competition and that we could reach it together. We meet once a month to have lunch with guest speakers to help answer the many questions we have. This a very supportive group and people from across the college would offer to speak and even offer copies of the tenure materials they submitted. This peer mentorship model worked really well and I would like to thank all those who attended and spoke at Team Tenure as it was mentorship like this and the Women's Caucus (big shout out to Mona Danner) that I gained tenure this year.
Mentors inspire and assist. My greatest mentor was my brother, Dr. C. Stephen Finley. Since he was seven years my senior, he influenced much of what I know. For instance, he taught me how to tie my shoes, sink a basket, and most importantly, write. Since he was a graduate student when I went to college and a college professor with tenure when I started my tenure-track job, he always had excellent advice on how to be successful, and as my only sibling, he naturally wanted his sister to succeed. Looking back, I know my brother's influence was profound; however, I also know there were many other people along the way who helped me achieve tenure and develop a successful career. In teaching, my undergraduate history advisor left students spellbound in the classroom. In research, I met people at international conferences who read my work and helped me secure my first book contract with Cambridge University Press. At Old Dominion University, I worked with a number of deans and associate deans who mentored me on professional issues, and along the way, I made many friends both inside and outside Old Dominion University who helped me weather the stresses of my many complex roles. A few of these friends became my life-coaches as well. The point is that I needed many mentors to help me succeed as a teacher-scholar, an administrator and even as a woman. As such, when thinking about mentorship, I encourage faculty to realize that we all need multiple mentors to help us navigate the complexities of our professional and personal lives.