We owe so much to those who have supported, influenced and nurtured our development as professionals and people. After completing a master’s degree in school psychology and working in the public schools near Richmond, Va., in a hybrid role of school counselor/psychologist, I decided to pursue my doctoral degree in counselor education at the University of Virginia (UVA). I still remember the day I walked up the hallway for my initial advising appointment with a brand new faculty member just out of his own doctoral program at Penn State University. UVA and Penn State happened to be playing each other that weekend in football, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I saw a sign on this faculty member’s door that read “Go Nittany Lions.” Openly rooting for the rival was a pretty bold move for an untenured assistant professor who had been at UVA only a few weeks. I took a deep breath, walked through the doorway … and my life changed forever.
Skip Niles is everything you could hope for in a mentor. Nurturing, understanding and humorous, he is a dynamic teacher, prolific scholar, exceptional editor and dedicated servant of the counseling profession. I was his very first doctoral advisee and the first doctoral graduate he was supposed to “hood.” I don’t think he ever forgave me for blowing off the hooding ceremony at the UVA Rotunda!
I wasn’t easy to mentor. Like many graduate students, I was working full time in the school system, taking classes, seeing clients in private practice in the evenings and raising a family. I had my ideas about the way things were or should be, and I didn’t always see the big picture or where I fit in. Today we joke that Skip learned everything he knows about advising from me — mainly, what not to do. I still hope I didn’t scar him for life. He was constantly super busy, but he always took the time to understand, converse and care.
Skip and I have since become good colleagues and friends. We served together on the American Counseling Association Governing Council a few years ago, and I was honored to put forth the motion that he be appointed editor of ACA’s Journal of Counseling & Development. I was thrilled, as were his other mentees, when Skip was selected to receive mentoring awards from both ACA and the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision.
I remember asking Skip a decade ago about his secret to great mentoring. He told me, “There is no secret. Good mentoring begets good mentoring.” You see, Skip was mentored by counseling legend Edwin Herr, distinguished professor emeritus at Penn State University and a former president of ACA. Ed once joked that that made him my grandmentor!
I first met Ed more than a decade ago when he insisted on holding the door for me at the ACA convention in Anaheim — even though I am nearly 30 years his junior. Recognizing each other’s names, we sat inside that door and talked for an hour. I could feel myself growing professionally and personally in his presence. I have learned most everything I know about mentoring by observing great mentors in action — and there are hundreds of exceptional mentors in ACA.
And that leads me to the real reason for this month’s column. What mark will you leave on the next generation of professional counselors? How will you help to grow and nurture the future of our profession? Answer: Become a mentor and make a true and lasting difference, one mentee at a time. Mentoring students and new professionals takes little time and almost always is as rewarding for the mentor as it is for the mentee. But how, you ask, do you go about finding a mentee? This is your lucky day — and an even luckier day for your future mentees!
To directly address the mentoring needs of ACA’s student and new professional members, the ACA Graduate Student Committee has updated, redesigned and expanded the previous year’s pilot mentoring program, and applications are currently being accepted, both for mentors and mentees. In fact, the ACA mentoring program has already made more than 40 matches.
The program is designed to provide an opportunity for counseling graduate students, or newer counseling professionals who have graduated within the past year or so, to pair with more-seasoned professional colleagues who share similar interests, experiences and goals. Participation in the program can involve as much (or as little) time as both parties are interested in committing. Please email email@example.com to receive an electronic link to the online application form. It only takes a few minutes to complete the application, but please have your ACA member number handy because you will need to enter this information.
To help with the mentoring process, Graduate Student Committee members also have compiled useful resources, which are posted to the COUNSGRADS Listserv on a monthly basis. The committee co-chairs, Victoria Kress and Nicole Adamson (the first graduate student in history to chair an ACA committee), have worked tirelessly to get this program up and running and to follow up with the mentoring pairs, offering resources and questions for potential discussion. The mentoring commitment officially runs for one year, from the beginning of July to the end of the following June, but the relationship can continue indefinitely if both parties so choose. Current mentoring pairs are reporting numerous personal and professional rewards from their participation in the program.
So make a difference in the professional development of a student or new professional colleague. Volunteer today to be a mentor through the ACA mentoring program. You will become an inspiration and help make all the difference in the lives of the next generation of professional counselors. Type in firstname.lastname@example.org and hit “Send.” It will change your life. It will change the counseling profession.