A reflection from Jessica Brassard, Mentoring Committee
Kindness. Vulnerability. Knowing ourselves deeply. Giving space to others. Invitation. There wasn’t an official theme to the NORDP 2022 Conference, but these threads of humanity wove through every session I attended. Being honest with our humanity and interconnectedness draws us to mentoring. I’ll take this opportunity to pull out sparks from under a mentoring lens in the keynote and three plenary sessions.
Keynote (Monday) – Broader Impacts: A Strategy for Research Development – Susan Renoe
Dr. Susan Renoe, our esteemed keynote speaker and the recipient of this year’s Research Development Champion Award, opened the conference on Monday with Broader Impact (BI) advice. She balanced the broad strokes of BI with the nitty gritty of agency expectations. We often find ourselves in mentoring and matchmaking positions with researchers—helping faculty connect with the assets around them on campus, in community, and across a national network of practitioners. Whether trained in mentorship or not; whether part of a formal program or in a moment of serendipity; whether in NSF-defined BI or by doing things we love — we mentor to help the people around us realize their impact in the world. For additional background, read the pre-conference blog post about Dr. Susan Renoe here.
Plenary (Tuesday) – Minority Researchers and Equity in the STEM Field – Dyhia Belhabib
In her talk, Dr. Dyhia Belhabib exposed culturally ingrained behaviors. Some behaviors we might recognize in people we work with everyday, while other behaviors might have been surprising to find in ourselves. Either way, Belhabib’s own stories, research, and vulnerability created a pathway for us to think about our own environments and behaviors within existing social frameworks. In mentoring, we must recognize in ourselves these potentially harmful behaviors and actively mitigate their impact to others. This holds true for mentors and mentees. A mentoring relationship is a safe place to be able to hold up a mirror together and think through our perceptions and how we might want to change our behaviors and reactions. One of the key takeaways, especially for our mentoring relationships, is to ask members of minoritized groups how they want to be represented and involved. Ask your mentee next time you speak with them — “How would you like me to represent you when speaking about or involving you with others?”
Plenary (Wednesday) – Examining barriers and identifying solutions towards achieving equity in STEM – Sherilynn Black
Dr. Sherilynn Black’s plenary talk highlighted that, very often, our DEI programming is structured so that we don’t actually jump into the discomfort of change, and thus change is slow or nil. Individuals within a space who want to change culture and climate often come with ideas and resources from a limited source (e.g. reading one book or paper does not make an expert!). Mentoring is all about change. We enter mentoring relationships to find support for the change we want to make — whether in ourselves, in our professional definitions, or in the programs and systems we execute. While we talk about using the NORDP mentoring resources á la carte, perhaps this is a good reminder that we should come to our mentoring conversations fully prepared to do the hard work that is necessary to make meaningful change. Let’s push ourselves to use the self-assessment every year, update our MESHH network regularly, and consider diving into the Mentor Training program if we haven’t already. For additional background, read the pre-conference blog post about Dr. Sherilynn Black here.
Plenary (Thursday) – Why Kindness is Important when Mentoring in an Interconnected World – Mica Estrada
Dr. Mica Estrada was invited to speak at #NORDP2022 by members of the Mentoring Committee specifically because of their connection to her at the 14th Annual Mentoring Conference organized by the UNM Mentoring Institute in October 2021. For NORDP, Dr. Estrada wove together stories of humanity with rigorous research on the effects of mentorship in STEM environments. She led us through thought exercises to feel the residuals of a moment of kindness. She spoke about the multi-faceted care required to live as a whole person. And for those of us who are moved by evidence, her research data speaks volumes for the life-changing benefits of access to mentoring programs. Our NORDP mentors and mentees believe in this work. With each dyad conversation that happens throughout the year and with each Peer Mentoring Group (PMG) meeting, we feel the effects of this work. Those of us who know the benefits need no further convincing, but it is amazing to see it at work in other institutions, with different people, and in other stories. For additional background, read the pre-conference blog about Dr. Mica Estrada here.
As members of NORDP, and with access to our phenomenal NORDP Mentoring Program, we are swimming in a wealth of knowledge, evidence-based structure and resources, and — most importantly of all — people who care deeply about the success of each and every one of us.