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The Rewards of Mentoring

Tom Enright (BSc 1976 UTSC) began mentoring Ray Ma, a fourth-year finance student at UTSC, through the Partners in Leadership program. (Photo by Ken Jones)

Mentorship is one of the most rewarding ways alumni can give back directly to the University and its students. At U of T, there are more than 30 mentorship programs across 18 divisions, and some 1,892 mentors working closely with students. For long-time mentor Tom Enright, the work is immensely satisfying.

When Tom Enright (BSc 1976 UTSC), chair of the University of Toronto Alumni Association (UTAA) mentorship committee, attended the second annual mentor recognition event at the Gardiner Museum last February, he spent a lot of time chatting with people whose volunteerism was being celebrated that night.

“What summed it up for me,” he said, “was talking to a lady who said to me: ‘I have to tell you I didn’t become a mentor for any type of recognition, but the fact that the University puts on this event makes me feel so important.’” Enright said her comments “spoke volumes. It was fantastic to have President Meric Gertler there to thank them personally.”

Enright, now Chairman of Enright Management Coaching and Consulting Services, has been a mentor for many years, and was the first honorary chair of the UTSC mentorship program, which began more than a decade ago.

Last October, through a program called Partners in Leadership, he began mentoring Ray Ma, a fourth-year finance student at UTSC. They established a series of goals for her, which culminated in a one-on-one session on campus where Ma gave a 10-minute mock presentation to a non-profit organization. The presentation “gave her a base out in the business world, where the approach is different than in the academic world,” Enright said. “There is always some kind of ‘ask’ in the business world it is a budget or getting a plan approved. It was a big hurdle to get across but Ray was terrific.”

Their mentoring experience showed “how mentoring has progressed over the years,” Enright said. “I spend the winters in Florida, which years ago would rule me out as a mentor. With technology now you don’t need to be face to face to have a meaningful experience.” They used Skype and e-mail to work together.

Enright said the University of Toronto Alumni Association is promoting the idea to alumni about how easy it is to become a mentor even if you are not in the GTA. “There is a fantastic knowledge pool out there and it is a shame not to take advantage of it.” Alumni can have “some level of engagement, a mentoring experience, even if they are not in the same time zone or country” by utilizing technology. 

Ma said when she first began working with Enright “I was just looking for someone with experience in the working world, but it became much more than that. The advice and soft skills I learned are so important in the business world.” Ma was born in Shanghai and came to Canada four years ago from the Philippines.

Mentoring, Enright said, is becoming more recognized “as an important way to attract students and contribute to their success as they move through university and into their careers.”

The UTAA considers mentoring and asking alumni to participate one of its highest priorities. “We are centrally positioned with regard to all the mentoring programs” in the various faculties, divisions and other groups that have such programs, Enright said. “So instead of them re-inventing the wheel, we can help by sharing the best practices” for engaging alumni.

The UTAA, along with program co-ordinators from the various faculties and divisions, is developing a guide to be published in 2015. “It will help existing programs and help to build new programs,” Enright said. The guide will also be online. One of the real keys to successful mentoring, he said, is getting the right match between student and mentor. A lot of programs are spending a great deal of time ensuring that the right match is made.

Enright stressed that alumni don’t need to be in a program to get involved. Speed mentoring—an alumnus simply spending one evening with students is valuable as well. A lot of alumni can’t afford the time to mentor in the traditional way, Enright said, so instead of ongoing one-on-one mentoring they donate one evening, “…to see if they like it or not.”

Once you get involved, Enright said, “…it gives you such a positive push. The students have so much energy it’s contagious and you can’t help but feel great. You want to do more, because you’re hooked.”

© University of Toronto Scarborough