Mentoring students in the .edu workplace

Whether it’s an intern who’s with you for a summer or a student worker in an academic office, mentoring can be a real challenge for many people who come into contact with students.

The penchant — especially for younger professionals — to treat students as “buddies” or as junior employees is an easy one and as such, it can blur the lines of professional decorum very quickly. Once the lines are crossed, it can be a very difficult thing to turn back the clock on.

I don’t really have any hard and fast rules for mentoring students, in part because my mentoring posture is just an extension of my personality. In other words, treat people like the adults they are. In every way you can.

I don’t believe in coddling students or making them feel like they are babies, because they’re not. I’m direct, but also funny most of the time…and try to make them understand that I’m genuinely interested in their growth and development. It’s a function of being a student and having experienced a lot of what they are, but being older when it happened.

But here are a few things I’ve come to use as a model for how I deal with students in the workplace:

1. Be honest. It just seems like a common sense thing, but telling a student they’ll be doing one thing, only to have them doing something different seems disingenuous to me. Explaining up front the range and scope of the work they’ll be doing, ensures there are no surprises later.

2. They’re adults. Treat them that way. Just because they’re students, doesn’t mean I treat them like bottom feeders. Even if the tasks they perform can sometimes feel that way, it’s important for me to communicate that their assistance is appreciated, without making it seems as if they’re indispensable. After all, none of us are.

3. Communicate. It’s such a key, because it can be uncomfortable working in a professional office (especially if you’re the only student) and feel as if you’re being shut out of things or don’t know what’s going on. Now I realize they can’t know everything, nor should they, but sharing information and letting them know what you can, goes a long towards building trust and also lends itself to…

4. Teaching Moments. Teachable moments are plentiful in the academic workplace. But all too often, we can get wrapped up in our own activities or want to let stuff go and be the “cool boss” and just brush things off as “not a big deal.” We do young workers a disservice by failing to show them how their actions as students can translate into poor work habits once they graduate. With the economy becoming more competitive each day, whatever advantages we can extend to students before they leave the door can be ones that stay with them for life. So I make it a point to share moments that can be tied to something bigger, because they eventually start to see how things are interrelated, without always knowing the details.

5. Boundaries. I’ve been blessed with great bosses almost my entire career. But one thing I came to figure out pretty early on, was that I had to learn how to separate the relationship. When it’s all boiled down, both of you have a job to do and your responsibility is to make their life a bit easier. If they’re worth their salt, they’ll do the same for you. I feel this is the same way for students. You can be cool, respectful and fun, without letting them think you’re buddies. Because this is the easiest trap for students to fall into and so, it’s not about asserting control as much as it’s about getting the job done.

Just because I like to laugh while getting it done, doesn’t obscure the fact that it ultimately needs to get done, the right way or else we’ll have problems. I articulate all of this a lot more coherently in ebook manifesto I wrote a few months ago on ChangeThis called Workplace 2.0: Motivating and Managing Millennials.

What are your ideas on student mentoring?

Reading, Writing and Big Ideas is a blog by Ron Bronson about higher education, web strategy and life in the millennial workplace. Subscribe to the blog via RSS or email.

Are you a direct report?

For those of you working in higher ed and charged with responsibility over the web site, are you a direct report to the President of the college or university?

If so, do you find it makes it easier to do your job or more difficult across your roles?

I began thinking about it (too early) this morning when I woke up. I think there’s a real difference in your ability to get things done, depending on where the web site is in the food chain and who it reports to.

I realize that the bigger the institution you work at, the harder it gets for this to happen, because bigger schools inevitably have more layers. Of course, I’ve never worked at a particularly large school as a staff member, so I can’t speak to the differences other than what I’ve observed as a consultant or via my friends in the trenches.

My experience says yes. And there are advantages to having the confidence that you have the ear of the “top brass” as opposed to not. Of course, being connected to the web always makes you feel like you’re in a different space, given the varied people across campus you come into contact with and how your natural constituency is everyone.

I think the relative advent of the “web offices/department” also makes this is a difficult question, because if the web is housed in marketing or some sort of public relations/communications arm of the institution, does moving it away and into its own space give it a “bigger profile” or relegate it to something like IT, in that, you know they’re doing great when you never have to see them. (Because it means everything is working…)

So is it just my groggy mind or do you notice appreciable differences depending on your place on the school’s org chart?

Social media isn’t medicine

It’s not going to make you better.

I’m not the first person the bring this up, but it’s frustrating when you hear people talk about “getting on Facebook” as if it’s the end all, be all solution to all of their web marketing problems.

Web strategy, especially in higher education isn’t going to work when you have thousands of people using the web site as a Triton, rather than a tool to advance the institutional message. I’ve seen this everywhere and it’s obvious to me that we, as web strategists, just aren’t doing a very good job of getting the word out.

Or perhaps we’re talking and the people who need to hear us aren’t listening.

There has to be an integrated strategy that combines the salesmanship of admission, the “get out the message” evangelism of public relations and envelope it within a wrap of the institutional message and marketing strategy. The complex relationship between academics and the web is also troubling, but more because a lot of institutions still haven’t figured out what the role of their web site is.

Most view their web sites as a tool to recruit new students and perhaps to reach out to alumni and the public at large. What they’ve not be able to understand, is how to communicate to these very different audiences using all of the mediums at their disposal, without compromising their message.

The web is nimble and other mediums are not. The web is immediate, it’s fast and yet, if you’re not clear about who you’re trying to reach and target the message to that audience, it can be even more ineffective than anything else you do (print, radio, TV, etc.) and it’ll reach them and turn them off faster than ever.

I could go on another rant about the need for web divisions, better education to help people understand how better to visualize their role and to adapt to the new media marketplace. But the folks who get it are going to run circles around those who don’t and eventually, it’ll roll down hill.

Social media isn’t a cure-all, it won’t solve your ills or fix structural problems within your organization, no matter how powerful a tool it may be. Understanding this can save you time, money and lots of headaches.

Social media isn’t medicine

It’s not going to make you better. I’m not the first person the bring this up, but it’s frustrating when you hear people talk about “getting on Facebook” as if it’s the end all, be all solution to all of their web marketing problems. Web strategy, especially in higher education isn’t going to work when you have thousands of people using the web site as a Triton, rather than a tool to advance the institutional message.

I’ve seen this everywhere and it’s obvious to me that we, as web strategists, just aren’t doing a very good job of getting the word out. Or perhaps we’re talking and the people who need to hear us aren’t listening. There has to be an integrated strategy that combines the salesmanship of admission, the “get out the message” evangelism of public relations and envelope it within a wrap of the institutional message and marketing strategy.

The complex relationship between academics and the web is also troubling, but more because a lot of institutions still haven’t figured out what the role of their web site is. Most view their web sites as a tool to recruit new students and perhaps to reach out to alumni and the public at large.

What they’ve not be able to understand, is how to communicate to these very different audiences using all of the mediums at their disposal, without compromising their message. The web is nimble and other mediums are not.

The web is immediate, it’s fast and yet, if you’re not clear about who you’re trying to reach and target the message to that audience, it can be even more ineffective than anything else you do (print, radio, TV, etc.) and it’ll reach them and turn them off faster than ever. I could go on another rant about the need for web divisions, better education to help people understand how better to visualize their role and to adapt to the new media marketplace.

But the folks who get it are going to run circles around those who don’t and eventually, it’ll roll down hill. Social media isn’t a cure-all, it won’t solve your ills or fix structural problems within your organization, no matter how powerful a tool it may be. Understanding this can save you time, money and lots of headaches.

My new blog & a twitter username swap

In a move that I’m sure will please my higher ed readers, I’ve created a spinoff blog called Startup Failure and you can get there via 307ceo.com or ronbronson.com

The idea here was to create a place where I could really dig deeper into issues that affect solo startups or people who are just getting started, as well as those who’ve been in “the game” a while.

This blog will try to gradually bend itself back towards higher ed more, though to be honest a lot of my insights are focused largely on how much we shoot ourselves in the foot in the higher ed world and how we make it harder for people to really succeed. So I’ll be focusing on the success stories and the interesting things I see in the field. Maybe I’ll branch out in other ways, too. I have some ideas, but I won’t give them all away.

Save for the backposting I did when I first started the blog, this blog is really only a year old this month. So I’m proud of where it’s gone in that time span and what it’s been able to do for me. Had I started it three years ago, who knows where I’d be now.

So I’m excited for what’s next and I do hope if you’re interested, you’ll check out the other blog too or pass it on to someone else who might be.

I changed my twitter user name from omnivoredotus to 307ceo. I have a love/hate relationship with the public timeline, but it’s public so people can find me for now. I’ve been pondering shortening the name for a while, I created the original one when I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with Twitter and just went with something I could get. With the new domain/blog, it just made more sense.

So there you go. Chock full of updates.

Momentum

I’m kinda crazy.

For people who know me well, they understand that once I get on an idea, I tend to work like heck to make it work. It’s just a function of what I like to refer to us as fireflies in the jar. That sucker isn’t going to live forever. So I run around like mad to show him to as many folks as possible, before the light goes out.

What I’ve been picking up over the past few weeks, though, is this sense of how great it can be when you can connect the dots on an idea. Not just the beginning of it, but the middle and end too. How projects you started years ago start to pay off.

Something that work just can’t do for me, that my own ideas can, is provide me with sustenance. When I’m in the zone, I don’t get up. I can sit in the same spot for hours until I get done what I want to get done and it’s like clockwork.

The past year has been astounding in terms of the connections I’ve been able to make using the web, the sorts of folks I’ve been able to “meet” this way and how much it’s paid off in other ways.

I think a lot of us end up in a similar place in our mid-twenties and early 30s where we feel like we’re behind, where we’re not keeping up with our friends who are doing ‘x’ and start to feel like our abnormal existence are leaving us behind the curve.

Here are a few thoughts on that:

1. Just because your parents don’t it, doesn’t mean you’re wrong. We want them to be happy for us and even the most confident among us turn into little kids when you’re able to explain something to mom and dad and have them actually get it. But that’s not always possible. Keep trudging anyway, eventually it’ll either make sense and even if it doesn’t, they’re still proud of you. I’m obviously talking about living off the beaten path and pursuing what you’re passionate about, short of being illegal or harmful to yourself and those around you. :) Just saying…

2. Do it while it’s on your mind…. It’s almost a running joke that the minute you stop working on something that used to be important, someone else has taken a similar concept further than you thought possible. The answer here is knowing when to quit, but also understanding why you’re quitting when you do and having a landing path for the next thing you’re going to do. Because there’s nothing worse than doing nothing.

3. Adaptability isn’t the same as change Being adaptable isn’t the same as “always changing your mind.” The way you respond to new information is either to maintain your current posture or to make new decisions that reflect the reality the new circumstances. I think being adaptable is way better than standing pat, when the situation calls for it and knowing how to be that way can get you very far.

I think it’s astounding when you reach a point where you just throw off the gloves and say “enough” and seize control of the situation. The sort of momentum that drives you in the midst of that can really take you far. It’s just when you realize that you’re not as powerless as you believe yourself to be, is when you’re able to kick it up a notch.

Four innovative ways to use Twitter as a tool

As promised in my post about why Twitter is like high school is a follow-up post that describes the brilliance of what Twitter can provide as a useful tool.

Rather than sing its praises — there are plenty of places on the web to do that — I’ll just come up with a few out of the box ways that Twitter could be especially useful.

1. For teachers to share general classroom information about parents: When I first thought this, I thought “what about those parents who want to know when Jonny had a bad day in class? Wouldn’t this be a great thing if they could simply follow the protected Twitter feed of his class and find out when the teacher posts that he’s been sent to detention? Probably not, because of all of the privacy issues involved I’m sure.

But…as far as disseminating information that they want to get to a wide swath of parents without emailing, sending a note home that gets lost or talking to each individual one on the phone…(not that you wouldn’t have to do that for parents without web access) it’d be a great way to bring the information to them more quickly and efficiently.

2. To broadcast garage sales in a local community: Hilarious and random, to be sure. But I grew up going to garage sales with my grandparents, so I recall vividly how my grandmother would go through the newspaper to find them. Other times, we’d just drive around to find them — especially in areas where we knew they were plentiful — and see what we could find. I can only imagine the advances that have been made in garage sales online in the past 20 years since I was a regular, but they’re still very localized activities that having to search a huge database or even a newspaper web site that covers a geographic area could be very inefficient.

A Twitter feed could cover all of the sales in a particular town on a particular date and would be handy for driving around to find what’s happening or to alert folks of a change of time, rescheduling due to weather or something else that print time lag would make difficult.

3.  Commuter Feed: Now, I know about Commuter Feed, but in places where there’s no critical mass, it’d be a hard thing to make work. So perhaps it’s just not something that could work on a large scale. But everyone  wants traffic information. In New York City and Chicago, it’s to know how long it’ll take you to get to the center of town. Heck, in Wyoming I needed to know whether I-80 was covered in snow, closed or otherwise going to affect my 50-mile one way commute to work each day. There have to be better ways to organize or integrate the information in a useful way. Perhaps in a feed, that’s maintained by journalists or radio traffic folks. I realize that the ad angle would be lost, as would the whole “listening to the radio for the 5 minutes of traffic coverage” but it seems like a value-added is embedded in there somewhere.

4. A rapid feedback service: Have an idea? Need someone to give you feedback on a powerpoint proposal, a speech or just need to talk through your writers block? The possibilities are endless, but I think Twitter could be a huge value for someone here. I know that people with huge followings are already able to post something and get back lots of replies, but some folks are never going to be as “cool” (or insane) as you are with your thousands of followers and devoted fans who jump at your every Tweetmand.  ;)  Look out for @needastartup

The best thing Twitter has to offer is instant communication and feedback with folks. Now there is no wrong way to do this, but it has to be suited to the way you communicate or you won’t find much value in using it for anything other than “status updates.”

Any other ideas you’d add?

Twitter vs. the NCAA ban on text messaging by coaches

Problem: Texting has been banned between coaches and athletes by the NCAA since 2007.

Solution: Twitter.

I was working on something completely unrelated and it just occurred to me that Twitter would be a really powerful tool for recruiting scholarship athletes at major colleges. It might even be more MORE useful for coaches at smaller schools with limited budgets, seeking an opportunity to level the playing field and to connect with more prospective students.

Coaches could tweet about their program, include photos of practice, imagine including 12 seconds of footage from a top player saying “Hey man, we want you here. You’re the missing link.” Twitter could revolutionize the recruiting game, because it’d allow coaches to maintain contacts with student-athletes at all phases of the recruiting and get almost instant feedback from them.  Someone would pay a lot of money for that sort of information.

If a kid unfollows a coach? Chances are, that school is crossed off his list. School gets followed and hey, maybe they’re back in the game? Can imagine if a recruit decided to declare where he was going to school via Twitter, rather than some orchestrated “signing ceremony?”

Twitter works great for prospective student-athletes too.

I mean, what’s better than to find out what a coach feels after a hard-fought loss? Most student-athletes aren’t able to get the temperament of their coach (unless it’s someone famous like Bob Knight) until they’re already on campus. Twitter would give them a glimpse of what coach might really be like when the makeup off and whether they want to play for him (or her.)

It would give students a chance to talk about what’s on their mind after a visit. But the real gold mine here? DIRECT MESSAGES. A coach could DM a student athlete and they could write back and it’d be within the spirit of the rules, because the messages woul d The Luddites at the NCAA said that email is perfectly fine.

So in other words, spamming kids via email with glossy emails using Scoutware and it’s totally in-bounds, but texting is not. So Twitter or a clone would give coaches an opportunity to regain the recruiting edge they lost after the NCAA decided to return to the stone age. And there isn’t anything they can do about it.

Microblogging is just that, so unless they’re going to develop a policy on that to limit contact, it seems that coaches who are savvy enough to start using Twitter will be able to thrive for a while.

Good news for Twitter? Probably not. They don’t know anything about sports and college coaches have no idea how to use Twitter or why it’d be useful. (Of course, if someone want to hire me to help them figure it out, I’d be delighted to help… )

Plus, I don’t know how many high school student-athletes would use it unless their friends were doing it. But pitched the right way, I think Twitter is way better a recruiting tool than email, especially for student athletes. I’ve watched a millennial go through thousands of text messages in a month, but check email a few times a year. It’s more immediate, it suits their generation well and it kinda makes sense to some degree.

What do you think?

Reading, Writing and Big Ideas is a blog written by Ron Bronson sharing his thoughts about higher education web strategy, social media entrepreneurship and millennial workplace. Subscribe to the blog via RSS or email