Mentoring program welcomes new faculty

Having served more than 750 new faculty members in 30 years, UND’s Alice T. Clark Mentoring Program fosters collaboration, friendships, faculty retention

Alice T. Clark Year 1 2019 Mentoring Group during the Fall Retreat.
From left, third row: Anne Kelsch, Jeff Carmichael, Klaus Cavalhieri, Mohamed Elhamadany, Robert Lunnie, Emily Brinck, Hallie Chelmo, Amanda Haage. Second row: Siobhan Wescott, Nicole Redvers, Ramkumar Mathur, Leisha Lunnie, Ericka Sanner-Stiehr, Catherine Finley, Anna Kinney, Beth Valentine. Front row: Renuka de Silva, Emily Henneman.

Although Amanda Haage, assistant professor in biomedical sciences, arrived at the University of North Dakota from Vancouver, Canada, in May 2019, it wasn’t until September that she began to get her bearings around campus and the Grand Forks community. For that, she credits the Alice T. Clark Scholars Mentoring Program, which introduces new faculty to the University, its people, places and resources.

“I could feel the difference,” said Haage, whose lab is in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, north of UND’s main quad. “In those first couple of months, my department was really supportive, but I didn’t know much about main campus or other departments or even how the University works, given that this is my first faculty position ever. The mentoring program was super helpful when it comes to learning all these things.”

Established in 1992, funded by the UND Alumni Association & Foundation and named after a retired vice president for Academic Affairs, the Alice T. Clark Scholars Mentoring Program is a multi-pronged faculty development program. Through monthly cohort meetings and mentorship, the program fosters cross-disciplinary collaboration, relationship building and faculty retention. Since its inception, it has served more than 750 new faculty members.

“The mentoring program is an investment in our faculty,” said Anne Kelsch, history professor and director of faculty development at UND’s Teaching Transformation and Development Academy (TTaDA). Kelsch has led and co-facilitated the mentoring program since 2007.

“We put a lot of money and effort into hiring faculty,” she said. “So, it only makes sense to do the best we can to give them the tools they need to be successful.”

Support and mentorship

New faculty – those who have tenure-track positions or equivalent appointments – can participate in the program during their first year at UND. Monthly meetings, which typically last about 3 hours, cover essential topics centered on pedagogy, diversity and inclusion, and research, among other things. A retreat, which usually takes place at a tourist destination in the Upper Plains, helps new faculty members forge friendships, creating a diverse community across colleges and departments.

“I made several close friendships with other faculty,” said Haage. “Those are people I talk to regularly now, and they provide this much-needed community support.”

The program leaders also help new faculty members identify a mentor on campus, typically a seasoned professor or administrator. The mentor’s role is to guide the new hire as that person settles into a new role at the University. In return, senior faculty often appreciate and find benefit in the fresh perspectives that their new colleagues bring, Kelsch said.

“We do not assign mentors,” said Jeff Carmichael, associate professor of biology and first-year Alice T. Clark Mentoring Program co-facilitator. “We help new faculty find a mentor based on their interests in teaching, research and service.”

In her first year at UND, Haage had a mentor in Holly Brown-Borg, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor in Biomedical Sciences.

“The mentorship component is really valuable,” Haage said. “I picked Holly Brown-Borg because she has this wealth of experience in our department and in the medical school, including grant writing, publishing and hiring.”

A two-year opportunity

Since 2009, upon the completion of the program, new faculty have the opportunity to return to it in their second year at UND. Those who stay on past the first year participate in monthly cohort meetings that are specifically tailored to their interests and needs and led by Kelsch and second year co-facilitator Deborah Worley, professor of education, health & behavior.

“If you continue on in the second year, the program become much more personalized,” Carmichael said. “The topics we focus on are largely determined by the participants themselves.”

Haage, who finished her second year in the Alice T. Clark Mentoring Program this spring, said that topics ranged from how to effectively work with a teaching assistant to what it takes to earn tenure in a given discipline. Keen to explore how her career can progress at UND, Haage selected UND President Andy Armacost as her mentor in the second year.

“I was really starting to think about what it takes to go into administration and what those upper levels of responsibility look like,” Haage said. “In my second year, President Armacost was new. I was still relatively new. We connected on this level, and he was a great mentor.”

Making UND a better place

For Kelsch, the Alice T. Clark Mentoring Program is “the best part of my job.” It is also the faculty equivalent of what the University seeks to instill in students: “being learners for their whole lives,” she said.

“Faculty need to model that,” Kelsch said. “We are learners. Higher ed is a rapidly changing environment. There are always new students. There are new realities that we deal with in our disciplines. We want to demonstrate the benefits of having a growth mindset and thinking of yourself as a continual learner through the Alice T. Clark Mentoring Program.”

“And, it offers the opportunity  to pay it forward: when you’re successful and established, you’re willing to serve as a mentor for another incoming faculty. The program really encourages a culture of mutual respect and mutual support. That makes UND a better place.”

Building on the success of the Alice T. Clark Mentoring Program, Kelsch launched a similar initiative for clinical faculty in 2014.

Faculty members eligible to participate in the Alice T. Clark Mentoring Program receive letters of invitation in August. To learn more about the program, reach out to TTaDA.