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    By Heather L. Cannova MSN, RN, Adjunct Faculty, School of Nursing, Kaplan University

    Many successful people recall a specific person who inspired or encouraged them during their careers or education. Some have several mentors throughout their career. As a student, having a mentor during your education can be an excellent resource and tool to help you achieve your educational goals. “Mentoring is a way to transmit experience and knowledge” (Williams, 2013). Mentors can give you guidance and tips for success with your educational goals. “A supplement to traditional educational models, mentorship also allows students and employees to improve their careers through networking (Williams, 2013). In addition, mentors can provide career contacts and networking long after the formal relationship ends.

    Many students must balance family, work, and educational demands. This can prove very overwhelming. A mentor can provide encouragement and guidance on how to balance those things. Many students who have had mentors find more value in their education and work harder towards their educational goals (Williams, 2013). Not all students need mentors, however; even in an online learning environment, finding a mentor and working with one on a regular basis can prove very beneficial. While a mentor-mentee relationship can be extremely rewarding, it is important to understand what a mentor is, and what a mentor is not.  

    A mentor is not your friend. Though many times these relationships develop into friendships over many years, initially, a mentor is not your friend. Therefore, the relationship with your mentor will benefit from more of a structured and professional approach. If you would like a faculty member or a professional colleague to serve as a mentor, approach them and discuss with them what you hope to gain from the relationship. Make sure that the meetings are set at a certain interval. This can be initially set for every couple of weeks to once per month, or once per quarter as the relationship progresses. 

    It is important that you come to the meeting with a set agenda, accomplishments so far, questions, and things you are struggling with. For instance, perhaps you need assistance with a particular project you are working on at school, or you are having problems balancing school and work. Many mentors have faced the same challenges and can give you important strategies for working through similar issues. In addition, though this may sound obvious to some, it also means no late night phone calls or texting at your mentor’s home unless your mentor has made him- or herself available to you in that way. It is very important to respect personal boundaries for the relationship to be successful and to work. 

    The mentor-mentee relationship has a definite beginning and an ending.  It is important to understand and respect the many demands that your mentor has as well. Thus, the relationship cannot go on forever.  For many students, the mentor-mentee relationship ends after graduation or once a project (such as a dissertation or thesis) is complete.  It is important that you and your mentor define the beginning and ending point of your relationship early on.  However, it does not mean that you cannot stay in touch with your mentor via email or some other agreed-upon communication.  Many mentors love hearing back from previous students and enjoy hearing how you are doing.  It is so important for you to share your successes. Your mentor will celebrate with you! I can speak from personal experience that it is truly one of the most gratifying experiences watching someone I have mentored or taught succeed professionally and personally. So, don’t be afraid to share. 

    Don’t ever feel like you are bothering your mentor. If it is a scheduled time, and your mentor has made the time for you, don’t apologize for being there. Studies have shown that the mentor benefits personally and professionally from the relationship as well (Williams, 2013). So, don’t be afraid to approach a trusted instructor or colleague that you respect for their time. Chances are, they will gain just as much from the relationship that you will. 

    Regardless of how well you are doing in your career or school, a mentor can be a valuable key to your success story. Not only does a mentor-mentee relationship provide you with an opportunity to form a very meaningful connection with a professor or colleague, it can help you find a creative pathway to pursing your educational and career goals.  

    Heather L. Cannova is a full-time faculty member at Kaplan University. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the view of Kaplan University.


    Whiteing Williams, Delores J. The Benefits of Mentoring Students. Radiation Therapist, Fall 2013 (22), 2, pp. 233-234. 


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