By Jam Lewis, Contributor

USM turns out to be home to highly knowledgeable skilled leaders. If you are a student leader, considering a leadership position or perhaps you are tired of asking your parents for advice, I encourage you to seek out a mentor from our faculty and administrative talent pool.  For the sake of protecting said faculty and administration from a barrage of emails begging for their time, I will hold off identifying too many specific people.

Prior to enrolling at USM I sent an email to Professor Robert ‘Rob’ Sanford PhD. Chair of the Environmental Science and Policy department. Professor Rob promptly replied to my request for a brief meeting and shortly after we toured Bailey Hall along with a student ambassador. I have a tremendous respect and admiration for Professor Rob for taking the time out of his day to share his point of view on internships, navigating my degree track all the while throwing in dry humour.

Dr. James Masi is another remarkable mentor I adopted from the Environmental Science department. Last semester he was my Renewable Energy professor. Dr. Masi listens intently, generously donates his time, knowledge and advice on keeping calm in a world of chaos. However, my advice is not a science project and will not cost you anything except maybe changing the way you see the world at USM.

It is helpful to look for specific similarities between you and a potential mentor that serve to enhance your educational experience. One of my motives in seeking mentorship, is to learn directly from a trusted leader who has my best interest in mind and one who offers their help in my success. A true mentor has an open door inviting you to connect on a regular basis that is flexible to both of you. Keep in mind our leaders are in paid positions and their time is valuable, and so is yours. Be sure not to assume our leaders are at your beckoning call, as this can be a deal breaker. There may be days, weeks or months before you receive an email or phone call when they are in work mode.

A healthy and balanced relationship is first priority, and this goes both ways. Should you find that a potential mentor is demanding or unsympathetic to your needs, it is important to express your feelings in a polite manner leaving no misunderstandings. Sometimes you may need to find another mentor which is not an indication of failure on your part. The talent pool is open year round and your unlimited dive pass is included with your paid tuition.

I would suggest reviewing the USM webpage announcements to familiarize yourself with the attendees at the numerous lectures and networking events. These affairs are great opportunities where the awkward meter is near zero, especially when food is served. I find that senior leaders are less intimidating when everyone is hungry. Stay tuned for community events where students are invited on a first come first serve basis, such as Eggs & Issues, a monthly breakfast occasion extended to chamber members of the business community hosted by the Portland Chamber of Commerce. The breakfast is just one of PCC’s supportive systems of sharing information and services among individuals and groups with common interests. The Chamber’s website shows the next breakfast is April 10, 7:00AM-9:00AM and the discussion topic is Integrating Immigrants Into The Community And Workplace. You’ll find a lot of potential mentors there such as, University of Maine School of Law Dean Danielle Conway, she was a featured speaker last fall.

Rather than conform to the mind-numbing habit of trolling the internet, commit some time to research a professor’s curriculum vitae. After reading my professors’ achievements my curiosity overflowed onto examining the educational and career history of their entire department. You may find your curiosity grows until you became eager to search further into faculty pages for several departments and find some real treasures. Notably commonalities will pop up and you begin to say, “I have to meet this person!”

This semester just happens to be the final semester for the professor I adopted as my ‘Jewish Mama’, Dr. Susan Feiner. She is someone I trust for advice as do many other students. The return on investment of textbooks might get you so much as a donut and a cup of coffee. My point is identifying a mentor is as valuable as the tuition and fees you’re paying for so don’t leave USM without one.


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