Leading by example

As the KLD program director and a woman with many mentors serving different purposes, Jackson has picked up valuable insight into relational success over the years. But from where does such a strong interest in mentoring stem?

A first-generation college student, Jackson was initially uninterested in higher education and did not even consider it as an option until late in high school. Oddly enough, Jackson did not have her first mentor until graduate school, but that individual and other mentors gained along the way provided the information and support needed to push her to earn a PhD. Since then, Jackson has taken every opportunity to seek out mentors and develop as one herself.

“I think every individual should be looking out for a mentor to further develop their mentor network. How do you do that? You keep your eyes open, you seek out opportunities to meet new individuals and really try to push yourself from a networking standpoint. You really need to think about ‘what are my goals and what I am hoping to get out of this,’ and then look for someone who is going to help you meet those goals,” Jackson says.

But finding a mentor isn’t always easy, nor is being one, so as part of the 16-week undergraduate program, the mentors take a course with Jackson to develop mentoring skills, share experiences and learn from the other mentors, and on a more practical note, the mentors are trained by Counseling and Psychological Services and given cultural diversity training. “The development opportunities given to the student mentors ensures that they can address their mentees’ needs,” she says.

Mentor/mentee assignments provide further structure for relational and professional progress. For instance, one of the most popular assignments calls for mentors and mentees to meet and talk about short-term and long-term career goals. Based on those goals, the mentees imagine what their ideal resume should look like two or three years from now. The mentors then help identify tangible opportunities and experiences that the mentees can take advantage of to fill their resume. This focused, directed process gets freshmen thinking about internships and career fairs.

Jackson hopes to implement a similar class for the mentees to create a stronger feeling that they are part of a large program with countless networking opportunities. Her final program goal is to see her immense faith in the students realized. She is transitioning the structure of the program to be student-led and -driven based on the idea that the students know students best and are the ones who really engage students.

Mastering success

In addition to heading the undergraduate program the past two years, Jackson took over as faculty director of the master’s mentoring program, led for more than a decade by now-retired professor Steve Green. With support from Dan Eilen, assistant director of student services, Jackson addresses everything from strategic planning and training to helping foster meaningful relationships.

The structure Jackson envisions for undergraduate mentoring is already working at the master’s level, where a head mentor and leadership team of fellow mentors take a lead role in the strategic direction of the program as well as the recruitment, selection and training of mentors. This year, second-year MBA student and head mentor Ryan Dorton led the mentoring program, which has about 35 members who serve as mentors to each incoming class of graduate students.

“My classmates and I owe our early successes in the Krannert master’s program to the leadership and guidance of our student mentors,” Dorton says. “Realizing what a significant impact our mentors had on our development made us want to give back by guiding the next class of Krannert master’s students.

“A student-led approach to the program gives the mentors a taste of what it will be like to develop and implement their own programs in industry. We have the opportunity to develop leadership skills while giving back to others. Professor Jackson does a fabulous job preparing us by showing the benefits of a mentoring relationship and the responsibilities of a mentor. This understanding allows the program to transform from year to year as new groups of mentors find creative ways to improve the process.”

The timelines for Krannert’s numerous full-time degree programs are so short for entering master’s students that it is essential they have some guidance and support system immediately when they arrive on campus. Toward that end, the master’s mentors spend the entire orientation week before classes getting their mentees up to speed.

“Krannert master’s mentors are such a great resource to their mentees because the student mentors are only a year removed from going through the same joys and pains that incoming students are experiencing in their first weeks on campus,” Dorton says. “The mentor-mentee relationship varies from student to student. Some mentees need a friend, others need information on the right classes to take and some want to tap their mentors for every bit of professional development advice they have to offer. The key to the continued success of the program is that it creates an instant network for incoming students.”

Although the master’s program is already well-established, that doesn’t mean it’s stagnant. In conjunction with the Krannert Professional Development Center (KPDC), Jackson recently helped develop a new program that involves alumni serving as mentors for members of the master’s mentoring program. Called Mentors for Mentors, the initiative already has attracted numerous alumni volunteers.

Alumni also are involved at the undergrad level, primarily as speakers, but Jackson wants to see that role expand. The goal is for undergrads as well as master’s students to work with recent graduates on the transition from college life to a career, ultimately creating a cohesive Krannert network where students can connect and grow as leaders both academically and professionally.

“One thing that allows both programs to excel is the partnership that the mentoring program has with the advising office,” Jackson says. “It is a true collaboration between faculty, staff and students, all of whom meet regularly throughout the year to collaborate on the programs.”

It’s no coincidence that Dorton is among those who now consider Jackson a mentor.

“I've learned that Krannert has an amazing community of people who care deeply about the success of every student,” he says. “Krannert is committed to the success of its students, and the mentoring programs is one of the innovative ways we ensure that success.”

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