Posted February 9, 2017 by Alexis Parrill 

What Does It Mean to Be a Mentor?

Mara Dahlgren and Lexy at the 2014 annual conference.I don’t know about you, but I spend a majority of my days working hard to ensure my students have the best experience possible despite rarely receiving (or expecting) praise or thanks. It’s part of my job…and hey, I’m happy to do it!

Lucky for me, before leaving campus for winter break, I had one of those moments that makes all of the late-night student organization meetings, challenging one-on-ones, and endless email chains worth it. For the first time in my young professional career, a student referred to me as a mentor.

Mentorship isn’t a new concept for me as I’ve certainly had plenty of them in my life, but I always thought of myself as a mentee; few times have I thought of myself as a mentor. This got me thinking: What does it mean to be a mentor, and what kind of roles have my mentors played for me? My mentors have been the biggest cheerleaders, critics, and influencers of my personal and professional identity. How could I facilitate this type of reflection and growth for someone else? I have to admit I felt a little overwhelmed while thinking someone may be looking to me the way I look to my mentors.

It is important to acknowledge that mentorship looks and means something different for every relationship. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to mentoring. I often go to different mentors for different things. In fact, when I googled “mentor,” the search elicited numerous approaches, styles, and definitions. Given the elusive nature of the word, I personally gravitate toward the definition provided by Merriam-Webster: “a trusted counselor or guide.”

Ultimately a series of quotes prompted my creating a list of my “top four” takeaways.

Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world.” — Robert McKee

1. Sharing stories about similar life experiences can be an important catalyst for growing organic relationships. I have found that storytelling is a powerful tool for establishing trust and connecting with others through similar ideas and/or life experiences. When sharing a story with a mentee, they recognize your ability to listen, relate, and put yourself in their shoes.

“The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” — Steven Spielberg

2. A component of mentorship that can be overlooked is the recognition that the mentee doesn’t have to be a replica of the mentor. The greatest mentors, in my opinion, recognize and support a mentee’s unique interests, personality, and qualities, then guide from there. It’s easy for a mentor to persistently shape their influence and recommendations around what worked for them, but the true mission is to inspire the mentee to pursue their own successful path.

“My mentor said, ‘Let’s go do it,’ not ‘You go do it.’ How powerful when someone says, ‘Let’s!’” — Jim Rohn

3. Having a mentor who will collaborate with a mentee on projects makes for incredible learning experiences! One of my mentors who is interested in pursuing college union research invited me to join her research team, which has allowed me to gain professional experience, build a deeper relationship with my mentor, and grow confidence in my ability as a researcher.

“Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

4. Everyone goes through times when they doubt themselves and their abilities. In these moments, mentors can play a role in recognizing and calling out the potential of their mentees. In my experience, mentors have been the people I can rely on to challenge me to dig past my doubt and fears to harness my true potential.

As I continue to reflect on my experiences as a mentor and how I hope to engage with mentees, I’m curious, what have been some of the most important components of your mentoring relationships? What are your "top four" mentoring takeaways?


Alexis Parrill

Alexis Parrill is the Graduate Assistant for Leadership Programs at University of Connecticut.

Alexis is pursuing a master’s in higher education and student affairs at the University of Connecticut. As the graduate assistant for leadership programs in the Department of Student Activities, she coordinates and facilitates a variety of leadership development programs for the UConn community. Alexis completed her undergraduate education at Indiana University-Bloomington, where she first became involved in ACUI when she interned at the Central Office and I-LEAD®.


It's been great to say "let's go do this" with you!
Comment posted 02/10/2017 1:54 PM
James Van Roekel
Comment posted 02/13/2017 3:44 PM
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