A Powerful — and Underused — Tool

By | January 7, 2015

Which of the following clusters of college experiences best predict graduates’ life-long satisfaction in work and overall feelings of well-being?

  1. Having a strong friend network, being actively engaged in student life, and being close enough to family to visit regularly;
  2. Having a professor who excites them about learning, feeling that professors care about them as a person, and having a mentor who encourages them to pursue their goals and dreams;
  3. Active involvement in extracurricular activities, having an internship where they can apply their classroom learning, and working on long-term projects over the course of a semester or longer;
  4. Attending an Ivy League college; majoring in engineering, science, or business; and developing multiple connections with professionals in the career they want to pursue.

According to a recent Gallop survey of college graduates, the answer is (2). In fact, graduates who said they had all three — a professor who excited them about learning, the feeling that professors cared about them as a person, and a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams — were more than twice as likely to report they were engaged in their work and were thriving in their overall well-being as those who did not.

Unfortunately, while 63 percent of graduates reported having a professor that fostered excitement about learning, significantly fewer (27 percent) felt professors cared about them personally, and only one in five reported having a mentor. A faculty mentor, of course, would likely provide a student all three benefits in one person.

There is much research that supports the value of individual mentoring in school and at work. A 2011 brief under the auspices of the Institute for Higher Education Policy reviewed available research and concluded, “Mentoring is a valuable strategy to provide students with the emotional and instrumental support students need to achieve the goal of a college degree.”

What exactly is a “mentor”? There are many definitions, but the same study found common characteristics include a learning partnership between a more experienced and a less experienced individual; a process involving emotional and instrumental (e.g., providing information and coaching) functions; and a relationship whose impact increases over time.

All three elements were present in an inspiring real-life mentoring example described in the Summer 2014 issue of our alumni magazine, GRavity. Dr. Rico Short, one of our inaugural Jag 20 honorees, recounted how a mentoring relationship with an MCG alumnus, Dr. Isaac Hadley, dramatically altered the trajectory of his life. The relationship began when Short was in high school — the son of a single parent textile mill worker with few role models and low expectations for improving his lot in life —and continued through college, dental school, career start up, and to the current day. I encourage you to read the story, if you haven’t already.

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It is clear that mentoring benefits the individual mentee. However, the benefits of mentoring are bidirectional. Imagine how gratified Dr. Hadley feels about his role in Dr. Short’s life. One of the most gratifying parts of my own 35 years in academics has been the happy opportunity to mentor dozens of young individuals not only in their development as scientists, but also in their professional and personal lives. It is a wonderfully rewarding experience and one that I miss most dreadfully.

Today we face a paucity of trained and dedicated mentors who fully understand the mentor role. Mentoring isn’t simply having students or trainees follow you around, watching your every move. While observation is fundamental to human learning, mentoring goes far beyond that. Mentors work to foster the development of an independent and self-sufficient career rather than develop acolytes, “mini-mes,” or clones. Effective mentors consider not only the professional career of their mentees, but also their human/personal needs. Mentors must be available for formal and regularly scheduled meetings with their mentees as well as informal discussions as the need arises. Mentors must hold mentees accountable and provide regular, clear, and honest feedback.

Most of all, mentors must have experience, desire, and … TIME! And in this era of declining resources and increasing faculty clinical, research, teaching, and administrative burdens, time is often the greatest challenge. But it is a challenge that we in higher education must address deliberately and proactively, as the future of the next generation — not to mention our national scientific and educational competitiveness — may well rest on being able to identify, engage, and train sufficient numbers of effective mentors to make the critical difference.

As an educational institution, we have an important role to play in developing a workforce that contributes to the economic strength and growth of our community, region, and state. Mentoring can be an effective tool to enhance our workforce development efforts, providing one-on-one support to the individuals who will become the economic, cultural, and social drivers of our future.

As we begin a new semester and a new year, I encourage all faculty, staff, and students to seek out mentoring opportunities — both professionally and academically, as both potential mentors and mentees —within our organization and in our community. Everyone has something to offer those who are coming behind you. Let us all reach back so that —together — we will all move forward.

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Discover What’s Next: GRU & CSRA Leading in Cyber Security Education

By | October 30, 2014

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GRU hosts Cyber Education Summit

UC Davis Hospital … Dropbox … Kmart … North Dakota State College of Science … Snapchat … JP Morgan Chase … ABC News … Yahoo … Unicef …

What do these organizations have in common?

Each was a victim of cyber criminals — in just the first two weeks of October. And they are the tip of the iceberg: A 2011 Poneman Institute/Juniper Networks survey found that 90 percent of businesses experienced at least one cyber security breach in the previous 12 months. And the costs are staggering: estimated at more than $400 billion worldwide, with about a quarter of those losses in the U.S. Click here to watch Cyber Summit presentations

And that’s only the threat to businesses and individuals; more insidious are increasingly dangerous threats from governments and entities hostile to our nation. In fact, cyber attacks are fast becoming a key weapon of choice in global conflicts; the Defense Department reports it experiences 10 million cyber attacks – every day. That is why four years ago the U.S. Army established its Cyber Command, an operational-level Army command to fight cyber warriors.

As most of you have heard, Augusta’s Fort Gordon has been designated the Army Cyber Center of Excellence, and the U.S. Army will be relocating its Cyber Command headquarters from Virginia’s Fort Meade to Fort Gordon. In addition, the National Security Agency (NSA) is planning to expand its presence (called NSA Georgia) significantly in our community and at Fort Gordon.

The announcement at the end of last year was obviously good news for the CSRA — the Command and the growth of the NSA will bring thousands of new professionals and their families into our area, spurring needed economic development and bringing high-paying jobs to our community. But the opportunities are more far-reaching than that: Augusta, Ga., is poised to become one the principle hubs for cyber security — and cyber security education — in the nation.

Which means … so is GRU.

The need is acute. Cisco estimates there is a shortage of more than a million cyber security experts worldwide, and the federal government alone has more than 30,000 unfilled cyber security positions. And these are well-paid jobs — on average (including both public and private employers), cyber security professionals earn $116,000, or three times the national median income.

Recognizing the need and determined to seize the opportunities, public and private stakeholders in the CSRA began working on plans to elevate cyber education and create local pathways to cyber security careers almost as soon as the Army made its announcement.

Leaders from GRU, Fort Gordon, Aiken Technical College, the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, Augusta Technical College, the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, the Columbia County School System, and the Richmond County School System joined together to form the Alliance for Cyber Education (ACE), working to create a cyber education curriculum that will prepare local students, beginning in middle school, to become the cyber security experts of tomorrow and help fill the vast and growing need. The proposed high school curriculum was submitted to the Georgia Board of Education for approval this month, with a middle school curriculum to follow.

As part of GRU’s commitment to this issue, we also became a National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM) 2014 Champion. Now in its 11th year, NCSAM is designed to raise awareness and provide tools to increase our national resiliency in the face of this escalating threat.

And last week, we were pleased to host an extraordinary Cyber Security Education Summit on our campus that brought together national, state, and local leaders and stakeholders to discuss issues, needs, and solutions we can work together to resolve. The Summit was hosted by Sen. Saxby Chambliss, whose steadfast leadership and support were instrumental in bringing the Command to Augusta. And in his keynote address, Adm. Michael Rogers, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and Director of the NSA, stressed that these kinds of public/private partnerships are critical to our success in facing and vanquishing cyber threats.

So let’s Discover What’s Next. In our continued quest to be “a top-tier university that is a destination of choice for education, health care, discovery, creativity, and innovation,” GRU is now moving forward to lead our region’s efforts for cyber security education … to the benefit of our state, our nation, and the world.