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A call for shared learning

January is National Mentoring Month. Most of us can recall a time in our lives when someone — a teacher, a pastor, a coach, a friend — became a guide for a moment and a mentor for life. Mentoring is defined as a relationship in which an experienced party assists another in developing knowledge and skills that will enhance the other’s growth. In essence, mentoring is shared learning.

On a personal level, I can speak to the benefits of the relationship from both angles. Mentoring takes patience, understanding and commitment, but it changes the mentor as well as the mentee for the better. My first year in Middle Georgia, I had the pleasure of participating in the Macon Mentor’s Project. Beyond the time I spent with Derian, who grew up a fine independent young man, the lessons I shared with him were rooted in my own adolescent experience. Decades earlier and an ocean away, the Rev. Frances Burns had selflessly devoted time to encouraging a then 16-year old Chris Blake.

My experience speaks to a telling figure: 90 percent of people who are mentored want to mentor others — creating the kind of ripple effects that are game changers for entire communities. This is because, according to national statistics, children who are mentored are 55 percent more likely to attend college, 78 percent more likely to volunteer, and 130 percent more likely to lead others.

The benefits of mentoring extend well beyond childhood and adolescence into the workplace. According to the Deloitte 2016 Millennial Survey, 68 percent of millennial employees who plan to stay with their organizations for more than five years have designated mentors. And, executives in leadership roles need mentors as well. According to the Harvard Business Review, 71 percent of CEOs with formal mentoring arrangements say that company performance has improved as a result.

Even Georgia's newest public university was mentored by several individuals — Regents Larry Walker, Bob Hatcher and Mansfield Jennings who shared a vision, and by a chancellor who conceived a plan. This year, Middle Georgia State granted its first master’s degrees. Among our graduate students, nearly 80 percent are alumni of the university or a predecessor institution who have returned, in part, because of relationships they developed with faculty mentors.

At the collective level, partnerships nearly always include an element of mentoring. For example, as the only four-year school of aviation in the state, we benefit from the expertise of the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Center of Innovation for Aerospace, based at the university. We have also recently opened the Georgia VECTR Center, a partnership rooted in mentoring — where educators, employers, government and community organizations assist our veterans and military families seeking to return to the workforce.

In short, whether individual or collective, mentoring works. According to national trends, by the end of January 42 percent of people who made New Year’s resolutions will cease keeping them. If one of yours was to make a difference, mentoring may just be the way you beat the odds — and help someone else to do the same.

Christopher Blake, Ph.D., is president of Middle Georgia State University.

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