Mentoring – Hot Topic Within IEEE and Others

Dick Riddle

Mentoring has recently become a hot topic within IEEE. As an example, the June 2004 issue of The Institute ran a feature story by Erica Vonderheid called "The Many Faces of Mentoring - Everyone benefits when engineers teach and counsel their younger (and older) colleagues". In this article Erica provided many instances of mentoring programs that are being used by some corporations to develop their less experienced technical professional employees. Other examples cited were IEEE volunteers mentoring high school students.

The IEEE Board of Directors now includes mentoring in the IEEE Strategies for 2004. As stated on page 4 of that document: Volunteerism -- Issues, Desired Outcomes & Actions Issue 3: IEEE must improve its ability to leverage the expertise of its experienced volunteers. Desired Outcomes: A formal mentoring process or program to pass experience from experienced volunteers to new volunteers Recommended Actions: 1. Offer/Assign significant activities to veteran volunteers. 2. Charge Boards and Nominations & Appointments (N&A) committees at all levels to proactively introduce new volunteers. 3. Promote mentoring as a volunteer opportunity.

The concept of mentoring has been around for a long time. As the story goes, Mentor was the name of the person that Odysseus, king of Ithaca left in charge of his household and the teaching of his son while Odysseus was off fighting the Trojan War. Over the years the word "mentor" has become synonymous withtrusted advisor, friend, teacher, and wise person.

Mentoring is not a new concept in Region 3. The Region 3 Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) formed in the late 1970's may be a unique group within the IEEE regional organizational structure. All members are prior Region 3 Directors and collectively have a wealth of IEEE management and organizational experience both past and present. The SPC was primarily formed to support the Region in planning for the future by providing counsel to the Region 3 Director and Executive Committee to minimize problems in the Region operation. Which also includes maintaining the currency of the Region 3 “Strategic Plan” and monitoring progress against the plan.

In 1992 many new volunteers were becoming involved at all levels, Region, Council and Area, Section and Chapter. When the Region 3 Executive Committee assembled for its first meeting in early 1992 under Director Conner, each of the officers was new to their position. Seven of the nine Area /Council chairs were new. Most of the committee chairs were in new assignments. To utilize the experience of the SPC Committee members more widely Vice Chairman (now called Director -Elect) Deborah Powers assigned each member as a mentor to one of the standing committees to provide advice and guidance as required. Over the last 12 years this policy of assigning mentors to each Standing Committee has continued within Region 3. In this application of mentoring the purpose is not primarily to help the committee chairs develop technical skills but to assist the chair in developing the management skills to successfully achieve the purpose, goals and objectives of the committee.

In 2003, Region 3 and IEEE was faced with different problems - not enough volunteers were willing to step forward to assume leadership positions within all levels of our organization - higher grade membership was declining -industry was not supporting IEEE activities as it had in the past. To focus on the cause of some of these problems and perhaps offera solution three members of Region 3's Communications Committee Dave Green, Charles Lord, and Bill Ratcliff developed a proposal and presented at SoutheastCon 2003 in Jamaica. What they proposed was to create a project called Leadership by Developing Others (LDO). The keystone of the LDO Project is a belief that leaders can develop themselves by mentoring or developing others, and that mentoring skills can be taught regardless of the age of those involved in the partnership. This is somewhat different than the traditional mentor concept of the old experienced person helping or guiding the younger inexperienced person within their profession. The presentation was well received but some attendees voiced some reservations about mentoring skills being taught.

In the fall of 2003, a LDO Project Management team was formed that included the proposal authors Dave Green, Region 3 Secretary, Charles Lord, Leadership Development Committee Chair and Bill Ratcliff, Communications Committee Chair as well as Bob Duggan, SPC Chair, Joey Duvall, GOLD Representative, Bill Harrison, Director-Elect (now Director), and Dick Riddle, Project Manager. A project plan was developed and approved. Training materiel was selected and developed. The LDO Project Management team elected to use the IEEE REGION 3 VIRTUAL COMMUNITY (VC) as a communication tool to plan, inform, collaborate, and evaluate the project as well as the VC as a communication tool.

By February 2004, the first group to be trained (Pilot Team 1) was identified and their commitment to the project was secured. Members of Pilot Team 1 are George McClure, Director-Elect (2004-2005), Charles Hickman, Treasure, Jim Howard, Past Director (2002-2003), Lee Stogner, Membership Development Chair, Thomas Bellarmine, Florida Council Chair, John Parr, Area 8 Chair and Don Hill, Conference Committee Chair.

A joint face -to-face meeting of the Project and Pilot 1 teams was held in March 2004 in conjunction with SoutheastCon 2004 in Greensboro, NC. This was the first formal LDO training session. Many of the team members were not able to attend the training session due to travel and other commitments. It was decided to hold follow-up training sessions usingthe IEEE Internet Conferencing Service. This is a live interactive web/audio product developed by PlaceWare. At the March meeting, mentors and mentees assignments were made with the goal of mentoring each mentee to assume the office or position held by the mentor. As a result, the Pilot 1 Team was expanded to include Brian Skelton, Membership Development Vice Chair, Kathy Rinehart, Florida Council Vice Chair, Tony Richardson, Area 8 Vice Chair, Steve Carroll, Conference Committee Vice Chair, and Bill Clayton, Communications Committee Vice Chair.

At 9:00 PM EDT on June 29, 2004, the first interactive web/audio LDO training session was held using former PlaceWare system now called the Microsoft Office Live Meeting. The meeting was considered a success with 15 combined members attending. The second training session was held on July 13th. Again a few technical problems but the training material and presentation by Charles Lord, Leadership Development Committee Chair received many accolades. It is planned to continue these training sessions as long as they are of benefit to the mentors and mentees.

Will this mentoring concept encourage more volunteers to step forward and be better trained as leaders? Will it cause an increase in industry support by recognizing the value of this type of mentoring and encourage their employees to be members of IEEE? Can mentoring skills be taught? At this point in time the answers to these questions are unknown. It is much too early to pass judgment on the success of this mentoring experiment called the LDO Project. What is known is that the future of IEEE is directly dependent on the volume and quality of the volunteers, and that Region 3 has a group of dedicated, talented, and creative volunteers who are committed to the success of this project.

IEEE Region 3 eNewsletter Volume 19 No. 4, August 2004, © 2004 IEEE
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