Elise Gray – Blogging from the Mentoring Seminar at the University of Arizona
I have been attending a mentor seminar at the University of Arizona, which involves literature review as well as discussion of theories and best practices of mentoring. I hope to share some of what I have learned with others who have interest in participating in or creating a mentoring program.
Mentoring for undergraduates has the potential to benefit students and faculty mentors alike. To facilitate the best mentoring experiences and outcomes we can utilize the experiences, skills, and intellect that we have acquired and draw upon the knowledge provided by those who have come before us. An overlooked resource is from the teachings of Eastern philosophy, which may create a purposeful mentoring relationship in which both the mentor and mentee are fully present and engaged.
The concept of mindfulness, rooted in Zen Buddhism is becoming an important idea in mentoring. Studies show that being fully present and aware of one’s thoughts, feelings, and sensations while maintaining a sense of acceptance without judgment of oneself or others is linked to a greater sense of overall well being.
A practice of mindful mentoring may yield benefits especially for individuals who are at greater risk, e.g. under represented or older students. Mentors find that mindfulness helps them to connect with their mentees and become more fully aware of what is going on during mentoring interactions. When we engage with others we are sometimes distracted by our thoughts or stressors. As a result we may fail to notice clues that would offer us insight into what our mentee is thinking and feeling, which may be detrimental if our mentee is struggling. Mindful mentoring makes us more aware of not only the feelings and body language of our mentees but it also allows us to feel and become aware of our own stress and discomfort which may then have a negative effect on our mentoring interactions.
Not Just for Mentors
Mindfulness does not apply only to mentors. It is a tool that can be used by both individuals in a mentoring dyad. For the mentee, mindfulness may offer a way to be engaged in learning and to connect with a mentor on a deeper level. When we are in a learning environment we can be nervous or anxious. These feelings make it difficult to be involved and open to learning new skills. Being aware and accepting of these feelings can actually help to diminish them in order to maintain a calm, natural state of learning and development.
Try Being Centered
Some people may think of mentoring as a strictly professional situation in which knowledge is transferred from one person to another. However, mentoring can transform participants and you might want to try out this idea. The idea of being aware of emotions and cultivating mindfulness can be frightening or strange to some people. Many people think that we must leave the psychology to the psychologists; however, in mentoring we must be aware that a person is a whole being and how they are feeling and thinking will be directly linked to their ability to learn, perform, and develop as individuals. More and more people, including mentors, are now taking a “person centered” approach and mindful mentoring does just this.
To learn more about mindfulness or mindful mentoring, check out these links:
 Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of personality and social psychology, 84(4), 822.