The award is an important element of a comprehensive University Faculty Mentoring Program created by the ADVANCE Program. Originally funded by a National Science Foundation grant to recruit and retain women in science and engineering, the ADVANCE Program’s efforts, such as this mentoring program, have expanded to include faculty development initiatives for all faculty, and to promote work policies and practices that benefit everyone at the University.
Part of the mission of the Faculty Mentoring Program is to support the retention of excellent faculty. According to research, effective, conscientious mentoring by senior faculty is one of the most significant factors contributing to the success of pre-tenure faculty today.
Although admirable individual mentoring and some meritorious college mentoring programs existed at URI, a comprehensive approach to mentoring for every new faculty member across all colleges was needed. Working with the Provost’s office, a University Faculty Mentor Policy was endorsed requesting each college implement its own tailored policy, assign mentors to every new faculty member, provide some form of training, and regularly check in to ensure relationships are active and productive. The ADVANCE program has been assisting each college in these endeavors.
To make faculty mentoring a clear priority at the University, to acknowledge those who provide exceptional mentoring, and to encourage an increased awareness on this important activity, ADVANCE initiated the Faculty Mentor Award. “Mentoring is a volunteer activity, requiring sacrifices of time and energy, as well as thoughtfulness, consideration, empathy, and a good degree of altruism. It is important to acknowledge and reward those who are willing to commit to these efforts,” says Barb Silver, director of the program, who plans the award a URI tradition.
Mentors are role models, advisors, guides, and sources of information about many things – research opportunities, sources of funding, teaching skills, University processes and local cultural norms that are often so elusive for a newcomer to grasp. Mentors can help with work-life balance dilemmas, with social and professional networking, and can serve as advocates, as conflict resolvers, as mediators, as a sympathetic ear, and even sometimes as a shoulder to lean on. “Especially in a time of tight resources, establishing solid relationships with other faculty is one very positive benefit the University can provide to pre-tenure faculty,” Silver adds.
•Winifred (“Winnie”) Brownell, dean of Arts and Sciences, has promoted an active mentor program in her college for more than 15 years, and has engaged in many of the practices known to be vital to the program’s success, such as thoughtful mentor matching, offering venues for mentors and their mentees to meet, and incentives, such as small amounts of cash for lunches or theater tickets, or other ways to establish good mentor-mentee relationships. Brownell has been applauded by her colleagues as an inspirational leader both within and outside the college.
• Roger LeBrun, professor of plant sciences, is well-known by his colleagues for his genuine care and concern for the welfare of fellow faculty members. He has been recognized for his wise counsel, for having invaluable insight and a sensitive awareness for what are appropriate and inappropriate actions for new faculty members, for being readily available, and taking that “extra step” in making faculty feel welcome at the University.
Brownell and LeBrun were presented with a small-scale reproduction of a ship’s deck prism, used before the advent of electricity on sea-faring vessels (U.S.S. Constitution in Boston and the Charles W. Morgan in Mystic are notable examples) to collect and disperse sunlight below decks. These glass prisms were laid flush into the ship’s deck, and helped reflect sunlight through the prism into the spaces below. Rhode Island being the Ocean State, ADVANCE felt the prism was a fitting symbol of efforts to shed light and reflect knowledge to junior faculty members.
Winifred Brownell of North Kingstown, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Roger LeBrun of Kingston, professor of plant sciences become the first recipients of the University of Rhode Island Faculty Mentor Awards.