By Linda Lockhart
As an undergraduate, Katie Smith learned about her field of interest, networking, equality and, most importantly, about herself with the help of a mentor. But she had to find that person, a female professor, on her own.
Now a graduate student at Ohio University, Smith hopes that a new mentoring program through the Women's Center will make it easier for female undergraduate students to connect with professional women.
"The center is helping students with the crucial first step -- making the connection," Smith said. "Students might not be sure who they could contact for questions and advice when considering professional goals or they might not know how to get involved in an issue that is important to them."
Program organizers are seeking female faculty and staff, graduate students, alumnae, and Athens-area professionals to sign up to mentor junior and senior female students beginning in January. So far, 14 women have applied to be mentors, said Susanne Dietzel, director of the Women's Center.
Dietzel said the program will start small, matching about 10 mentors with students for winter and spring quarters, but she expects the program will grow. When she took the job as director of the Women's Center last year, she said she realized she had the perfect opportunity to bring her vision for a mentoring program to life.
"The mentoring program is part of the heart of the Women's Center. We all know how important it is to have role models" said Dietzel, adding that the program will "provide students with a sense of the transitions that await them."
Sharon Denham, professor of nursing, applied to be a mentor, in part, because she did not have one. Denham said she has spent her career learning how to navigate obstacles and find opportunities -- topics a mentor could have helped her with.
She added that fitting the program into her already busy schedule is a worthwhile investment.
"You make time for things you think are of value or meaningful," Denham said. She is quick to acknowledge that the relationship is enriching for the mentor as well as the mentee.
Dietzel agreed. "The mentoring relationship is a two-way street," she said. Although the Women's Center will facilitate, mentors and their students will decide together on the format of their relationship and the commitment they wish to make.
Smith, who helped develop the program as part of an internship project during spring quarter, said her mentor helped her discover her strengths and possible professional paths. She said it has been satisfying to see women's interest in the new program.
"It is always wonderful to see something in which you have invested many hours of work begin successfully," Smith said, "and it is even better when the project is something you really believe in."
The deadline to submit applications -- available at the Women's Center in Baker Center-- is Nov. 3 and those selected for the program will be contacted in mid-November.