Five Takeaways from the 2020 Mentoring and Advising Summit

In the Rangos Auditorium at Carnegie Melon University. A crowd listens to a person on stage. If students are the lifeblood of an institution of higher learning, mentors and advisors are the veins and arteries. But what does it mean to be an effective mentor or advisor to students today?

For the first time, Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University partnered to cohost the Mentoring and Advising Summit. This year’s theme focused on inclusive excellence.

By the numbers

381 participants
35 proposals
6 idea sessions
4 working groups
2 universities
1 planning committee

“We know that diverse groups are more creative and more innovative,” said Provost Ann E. Cudd in her opening remarks. “Our students are not a one-size-fits-all cohort,” added James H. Garrett, Jr., Carnegie Mellon’s provost, during his remarks. “Your role as advisors is not just critical to retention … you are the ones who have to have the difficult conversations. You help steer them, help them make the next best decision.”

Based on overwhelming feedback from last year’s inaugural summit, the planning committee scheduled a longer lunch and more break periods throughout the day for the joint conference. “You really wanted more time for networking,” said Julia Spears, associate vice provost for academic innovation at Pitt.

In fact, the seed for a joint summit was planted when Spears and her counterpart at Carnegie Mellon Jen Gilbride-Brown networked over coffee last year. “We’re facilitating a monthly space for directors come together, discuss what’s working and not, what can we do at the institutional level.”

Here are five takeaways from the summit’s keynote address by author and social justice trainer becky martinez and a plenary session on student success. (Read more about all the sessions and presenters.)

1. Consider how social class influences our work in higher education

becky martinez asked attendees to have this quote from bell hooks in the backs of their minds as they went about their day of learning: “Nowhere is there more intense silence about the intense reality of [social] class differences than in educational settings.”

Cultural competency in mentoring and advising work is paramount, martinez stressed. Thinking about social class is “so much more than money,” she said. It’s also in the norms and the values: talking about where you vacationed or where you went out to dinner.

“We’re seeing this wave in higher ed in which we’re going to need to pay attention to social class identity amongst all the other identities.

“My hope is that you wrestle with it a little bit.”

2. Consider the team it took to get each student here

“We all have this space of story. I have a whole room of people behind me who got me to this space of being dr. becky martinez,” she said. But it’s important to acknowledge that the room behind each student looks a little different. With regard to financial aid, for example, martinez said, “with my parents, I’m the one who navigates these systems.” What are the ways that each student is supported? Where could they use more support? That’s where mentors can step in.

3. Think about how we can critique current practices without judgment

“Higher ed is not known for being nimble,” said Spears during the student success session. But hosting events like the Mentoring and Advising Summit, especially across two institutions, demonstrates the work being done at all levels to improve. “We’re also trying to be very good listeners to this community.”

4. Anyone can be a mentor or advisor

Just because it’s not in someone’s job title doesn’t mean they don’t serve in a mentoring or advisory capacity for a student. “There are things that are always written in your job description on paper, and then we also do so much more than that,” said martinez.

5. Build relationships across difference

Optimizing strengths in mentoring and advising requires learning about differences. “Often what happens with class is there’s guilt and shame on the spectrum,” said martinez. Building relationships is a way to break through that. Mentors and advisors are uniquely positioned to be able to do so with students.