Building interaction

Collaboration between alumni and students is in constant demand. The University of Helsinki is responding to this demand by offering group mentoring, for example. Participants in the 2017–2018 kick-off session explain what group mentoring is about.

Early Monday evening is not necessarily a time when you would expect to find a large crowd at Think Corner. But the kick-off session for the University’s group mentoring programme on 13 November 2017 proved an exception. Bringing together the University’s alumni and students, the programme kick-off attracted an audience of close to 130 mentors and mentees. Each of the 29 mentors will supervise a group of two to five students. They will meet over a six-month period at intervals of their own choice. A closing session for all the programme participants will be held in May 2018.

“Mentoring is both fun and energising. It doesn’t take much work, just a bit of time and effort,” says Otto Mattsson, who has acted as a mentor several times.

This is the seventh time the University’s Career Services is coordinating the programme together with the Alumni Association and the University’s Alumni Services. The participants – both students and alumni – represent a wide range of disciplines.

“I joined the Alumni Association a few years ago and found out about group mentoring. The development opportunities are exceptional when you pair two people who don’t know each other together to make plans for the future,” says Mikko Mäkipää, a speech consultant and first-time mentor.

The mentoring process supports career planning         

The group mentoring programme has been developed each year since its launch. This time, the Alumni Association and Career Services asked Päivi Kupias of Tevere Oy to lead a training session in mentoring for those participating in the kick-off session. In addition, the mentors and mentees can now consult the Workbook for Mentoring, a guide compiled by Kupias together with Minna-Rosa Kanniainen and Jaana Nylund that provides practical advice to those involved in a mentoring process. The aim of mentoring is for the mentor and mentee to discuss career-related topics at a general level and for the mentor to share his or her work-related experiences with the mentee in confidence. The idea is not for mentors to share only their subject knowledge.

“Finnish mentors are often quite modest although they actually have a lot to give based on their experiences,” Kupias noted at the kick-off session.

Student interest in the programme is reflected in the high number of applicants each year. Group mentoring provides mentees with the opportunity to reflect on their career plans and gain related tips from the mentor.

“As a mentor, I can help students with precisely the kind of practical questions that academic studies don’t answer, such as: What are employers looking for? Where should I search for jobs and how should I apply for them? How can I describe my skills to employers?” says Mattsson, who previously worked in a leadership position at Alma Media.

As the operations are based on a group format, they do not rely solely on the mentor – the mentees also support each other. Increasingly, the process is developing into a kind of peer mentoring based on the creation of mutual trust during the meetings.

“The key ingredients are trust and shared goals,” Kupias points out.

Cross-disciplinary interaction

This year, students were given the opportunity to apply to join mentoring groups based on themes they find interesting. The mentors had outlined the topics they will focus on in the group meetings, such as self-knowledge, career options and describing one’s expertise. The resulting mentoring groups cross faculty boundaries.

“My biggest expectation for the mentor/mentee cooperation relates to open discussion between scholars of different levels. The mentee is not yet restricted by established practice in the discipline, whereas the mentor has experience in integrating theory and practice,” states Kaisa Fonsell-Lehto, an education student.

The group format of the University of Helsinki’s mentoring programme is highly exceptional. Its extensive cross-disciplinary nature provides diverse opportunities to participate in the University’s activities.

“As an added bonus, the University programme provides an opportunity to work with students who are interested in their personal development and are going through an important phase in their lives. I think it will also be energising for me as a mentor,” says Leena Korppoo, a psychologist at Desentra Oy.

Having participated in the programme in previous years, Otto Mattsson says that mentoring is an excellent way to support both students and the University.

“You learn about young people, but you also learn from them.” It’s good to hold on to the objectives and schedule of the mentoring process.

“Mentoring can play a significant role in giving both parties a clearer direction for the future. Interaction helps to widen your perspective, provides you with feedback on your ideas and lets you interact with professionals,” mentor Mäkipää states.

Alumni needed to support students

The mentors participating in this year’s programme encourage other alumni to apply for the next programme. Sharing your work and life experiences enables students to outline potential career paths and future scenarios.

“The primary duty of alumni is to encourage students to grab opportunities, awaken their interest in the diverse world of work and inspire them to keep trying,” Korppoo stresses.

Students also encourage alumni to participate in the activities of the alma mater.

“Students find it tremendously beneficial to cooperate with graduates. I expect to gain information and practice relating, for example, to the choice of study tracks,” adds mentee Fonsell-Lehto.

Miika Mertanen

ALUMNI, PARTICIPATE IN GROUP MENTORING!

• As a mentor, you will supervise a group of two to five mentees by leading discussions on general work-related topics.

• The next phase of the programme will begin in autumn 2018 and will last approximately six months.

• Apply to become a mentor for the 2018–2019 period on the Alumni Association’s website: https://www.helsinki.fi/en/alumni-association.

• More information on the University of Helsinki’s group mentoring programme: http://blogs.helsinki.fi/mentorointi/en/