MentorNet, You Say?
“An experienced and trusted advisor.” Maybe you’re one of the lucky few who’s found one, a mentor will help open the door to opportunities you never thought possible. The problems involved with finding a mentor though are for the most part beyond the scope of the ordinary high school or college student. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we simply don’t have the resources. Before I discovered MentorNet I had oddly enough never thought to look into the possibility of an online mentorship. I maintained the belief that a mentor was someone who you not only needed to find, but had to develop a relationship with to the point that he/she knew and trusted you well enough to offer their time, guidance, and expertise. If it sounds difficult that’s because it is.
MentorNet seeks to eliminate the hardest part of the process by directly matching you, a protégé, with qualified mentors. I should mention that the program is strictly limited to students pursuing a STEM degree. For those unfamiliar with STEM, it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. So unfortunately this program won’t benefit everyone, but an incredible number of students still fall into one of these four categories. MentorNet claims to have restricted acceptance to this particular demographic because STEM students on average graduate at a lower rate than those in other degree fields. But it does make sense to target just those students, especially with careers in STEM growing at the current rate.
Now I haven’t looked into other similar services that extend their acceptance to all students regardless of major because quite frankly I didn’t know such a thing existed. If you’re still reading this I assume you’ve identified yourself as a STEM student and are eager to learn more.
So, What is It?
MentorNet is essentially a social network of protégés and mentors. Individuals in both roles fill out a brief questionnaire intended to expedite the matching process. It doesn’t take more than ten minutes to complete and consists almost entirely of questions aimed at what kind of mentor you want. You designate a desired level of education, industry experience, and even discussion topics for those students seeking help with personal issues. After completing your profile, protégé and mentor alike must complete a mandatory training session that ensures universal knowledge of the mentorship process across all members. At this point MentorNet presents you three mentor candidates for closer inspection and requires that you choose one and initiate a mentorship request. The recipient is then granted access to your profile from which he/she can determine if they are in fact a good fit for your personal situation and mentor needs. Should they decline you are again presented with three candidates and the process repeats until a match is successfully made.
You and your mentor are required to communicate for just 15-20 minutes a week through the course of a four-month mentorship, but you’re certainly free to go above and beyond that quota if you’d like. During the next four months you and your mentor will develop short and long term goals to help you accomplish whatever it is you’re working toward. Part of the protégé/mentor relationship requires making a substantial effort and ultimately achieving to some degree the goals you’ve set. If after four months you decide as a pair to continue the relationship you are encouraged to do so for a maximum of 12 months. The one year limit serves to encourage growth and variety in the MentorNet community.
Power of 2. The protégés in our program have 2 times the chance of graduating from college and entering a STEM career.
I signed up last week because I couldn’t really find a reason not to. Although I feel it’s necessary to mention that after completing the final training I encountered a message which informed me that I’d need to wait for an email before I’m able to advance to the selection phase. I found it slightly disheartening that I wasn’t made aware of the apparent time-lapse between the application and selection processes before this point, so for anyone that also finds this a turnoff hear me out.
It’s The Product Life Cycle, Folks
MentorNet is currently undergoing “soft launch.” If you aren’t familiar with the term it’s not hard to infer the meaning. Any successful service that relies on a user base to function goes through a period of adoption and growth before it can even begin to live up to its full potential. All companies, services, start-ups, etc. need awareness to feed growth. Having been founded all the way back in 1997, they have results and statistics to verify that this isn’t week one, but it would appear upon first impression that they lack the numbers to support an immediate matching process. That’s one point.
Second, MentorNet advertises itself as a social network open to any STEM student in the United States. This fact is the first sentence read after performing a Google search. But upon further inspection of the flyer that caught my eye a few days ago, I saw the phrase ‘It’s FREE’ with a small asterisk whose annotation wasn’t far behind and read: “Your campus or professional society partners with MentorNet to provide this service at no fee to you.” This in conjunction with requiring a .edu email address leads me to believe that there is some sort of verification process performed on a per-user basis.
In all honesty I’m not sure that I’ll be granted full entry or access to the selection process. Hopefully the delay is just a side effect of a fledgling community. Either way I don’t regret registering with MentorNet, as anyone who fits the criteria would only do themselves a great disservice by ignoring such an opportunity. I think it’s important to spread the word and help spur the growth of a service with such awesome potential. Sign up whether you’re a student or a professional and devote an hour each month to bettering your future or someone else’s. When I get that email I’ll follow up.