Published: August 15, 2017
When I was hired in 2013 by Marian Browning, who is now the Academic Director for Pacific Oaks’ San Jose Campus, one of the things that we talked about early on was advancing the mentoring needs for adjunct professors. I was already comfortable teaching in higher education, but engaging in mentoring is more personal and relational.
Typically in higher education, there is little to no training or mentorships for incoming faculty to learn how to teach college students. Adjuncts are often hired for their industry expertise and strong content knowledge, and then they’re placed into classes. That’s something that Marian and I both experienced when we were adjunct faculty at various community colleges here in the Bay Area. However, we wanted to make a change.
Before I came aboard, there was no actual program but Marian did have new adjuncts shadow seasoned adjuncts. The intention of the Adjunct Faculty Mentor Project now is to develop strong faculty—whether they teach at Pacific Oaks long term or not.
The topics that we focus on are slightly different and take a developmental approach. We start where the faculty mentee is and move forward from there.
The topics are focused on Pacific Oaks pedagogy (dialogic, interactive, culture-centered) and the course content (assigned readings, student interactions about those readings, and written assignments), as well as ways to respond to student’s individual needs for writing.
When I first started out, there was very little literature on characteristics or metrics for evaluating faculty mentor programs, specifically for evaluating programs that trained adjunct faculty. When I found out about the Mentoring Institute at University of New Mexico a couple of years ago, I went to a conference with the intention of learning about mentor program evaluation and using validated metrics for program improvement.
What I found was that there were almost no metrics, that mentoring is a really broad subject, and very few institutions were mentoring adjuncts, let alone pre-service adjunct faculty. But there were plenty of other topics covered, including onboarding new full-time faculty, peer mentoring, and helping new students acclimate to college. There was also a strand of presentations on graduate students as mentees completing dissertations with a doctoral professor as a mentor.
The more people I talked with, the more they encouraged me to write up a program specific to mentoring adjunct faculty. The metrics that I used to measure our program’s effectiveness were based on Pacific Oaks pedagogy and our own goals and objectives, including professional development opportunities for high-quality adjunct instructors.
The evaluation had two pieces. It was for the mentors and the mentees to reflect back on their practice as a mentor and as a mentee. And then also to give us suggestions moving forward to make improvements to the program.
While I’m not involved in designing The Mentoring Institute’s conference, Pacific Oaks’ culture relates very well to their three focus factors: innovation, achievement, and transformation. First of all, Pacific Oaks is innovative in that we are mentoring adjunct faculty who haven’t even been hired. (We don’t promise to hire them even if they’re successful mentees.) Even without that promise, we are giving people who want to contribute a leg up in the industry.
The second factor, achievement, also matches our mentor program. We have a list of approximately 10 people who are interested in participating in our one-on-one mentor and mentee collaboration. This fall, we have three one-on-one teams. Our backlog is about two years to match them with mentors, which shows the level of interest we are seeing. We are excited by the mentees’ motivation to continue their professional growth. And then we build on that within our program using the Human Development framework at Pacific Oaks, which is to become more aware of one’s own abilities, communication style, and response to diversity.
Pacific Oaks uses a transformational pedagogy that encourages growth, self-awareness, and promotes taking action to promote one’s own and others’ growth. During part of the presentation for my EdTalk, I discussed how the mentor program that we have walks the talk of Pacific Oaks pedagogy. The mentor is modeling for the mentee what is done in the Pacific Oaks classroom. And the mentee is experiencing that team pedagogy and going through his or her own transformational experiences as they’re learning to become faculty. Adjunct faculty members become much more aware of diversity, their own biases, and learn about a broad spectrum of people. A whole new world opens up for them with the help of this effective leadership and mentorship program. We really are walking our talk at Pacific Oaks, and we are proud that our students are the main beneficiaries of this work.