H. L. Menken once wrote: “The best teacher is not the one who knows most but the one who is most capable of reducing knowledge to that simple compound of the obvious and wonderful.” While Menken’s words may inspire or enlighten, they say nothing of how the “best teacher” came about her or his capacity for distilling knowledge into the “obvious and wonderful.” Similarly, one may ask what it takes to produce a great mentor.
Researchers at PSU have ideas about what is required to answer this question: studies need to be conducted, data needs to be analyzed, different methodologies and approaches need to be applied to determine which practices yield the desired outcomes and theories need to be developed and shared. Are certain fields better suited to undertake this task? Maybe, but maybe not. Could a variety of disciplines, from social work to psychology, education to business, contribute to the understanding of how to produce exceptional mentors, share their knowledge and by such an exchange facilitate a greater understanding for all involved? Undoubtedly, and at Portland State University there exists a forum for just such an exchange: the Center for Interdisciplinary Mentoring Research (CIMR).
Organized in 2010, CIMR’s mission is to advance the field of mentoring through research, the dissemination of research, education, and partnerships with organizations provided services. Recently, Dr. Thomas Keller, Director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Mentoring Research, sat down to talk about the Center, mentoring, and the advantages of working with a cross-section of disciplines from every corner of campus.
“We think of mentoring as something that occurs throughout the life-course,” Dr. Keller said. “We focus on mentoring in youth programs, college settings, and the workplace. We look at how mentoring operates and its effects across the life-course.”
When asked to describe what mentoring means to him, Dr. Keller replied: “Mentoring is the process of someone who has more experience trying to provide support and guidance to others trying to gain that practical experience.”
Mentoring as a practice has been around for a very long time. However, according to Dr. Keller, much of the research on the practice has been conducted within the past twenty years and that research, stretched across multiple disciplines, has shown the positive effects of mentoring. Though CIMR has been around for just a few years, the Center now has 25 affiliated faculty members hailing from such diverse schools and departments as Social Work, Sociology, Psychology, Business Administration, Education, Public Health, and Engineering and Computer Science. Their work and collaborative efforts are providing a wealth of mentoring knowledge to other mentoring researchers, students, and organizations providing mentoring services for youths, college students and professionals.
Discussing CIMR’s interdisciplinary approach to mentoring research, Dr. Keller said, “I’ve personally found that working in the Center helps me stretch beyond my focus on youth mentoring to look at mentoring in other contexts to explore commonalities and differences. Looking at research from other disciplines gives me ideas for what might be relevant in youth mentoring. Because I’ve worked with colleagues in other schools and other areas, I’ve started investigating different program models and program approaches.”
There are currently several major research projects underway at the Center. Dr. Sarah Geenen, Research Professor, Regional Research Institute on Human Services, has received a grant of $3 million from the U.S. Department of Education and another $3 million from the National Institutes of Health for studies testing the effect of a mentoring intervention for foster youth with disabilities and youth from the general foster care population as they transition from foster care to independent living. CIMR is, however, about much more than conducting research.
“We do a lot of education and outreach,” Dr. Keller said. “Many of our faculty give talks and organize events that feature mentoring research. We bring people from other universities to present their work. We also have a variety of community forums so local business and youth programs can be informed about the latest research and learn how it might apply to them. We really focus on bridging the research and practice communities, and much of the research we conduct is with programs in the community, or it involves community members. I think our center fits the PSU model of engaged research where we have close ties with the community and are working with the community to improve the services provided.”
One of the ways CIMR reaches out to the community is with its Summer Institute on Youth Mentoring. This annual event at PSU brings top mentoring research and practitioners from all over the world to engage in an intensive week-long seminar. This year’s event was held July 23-27 and focused on innovative and non-traditional models of youth mentoring.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Center for Interdisciplinary Mentoring Research, visit their website at www.pdx.edu/mentoring-research. If you’d like to know more about this year’s Summer Institute on Youth Mentoring, visit their website at: pdx.edu/youth-mentoring.