University at Buffalo - The State University of New York
Skip to Content

Mentor Program

Bonnie Collins, MSW '80, Shermeeka Mason, MSW '13

The school facilitates an exciting mentoring program that links current students with alumni.

Students and mentors will be matched according to interest and will create a mentoring plan based on mutual expectations. This program invites alumni to share their professional experiences and allows MSW students to broaden their network of support.

Guidelines for Students

Welcome to the UB School of Social Work Mentoring Program.* We hope that you find your mentoring experience to be rewarding and enjoyable. Below are some guidelines to assist you in approaching the mentoring relationship.

Purpose

Social Work is a profession based in relationship. Professional networking and informational interviewing are essential relationship building skills to develop as you progress through your career. You have been matched with a mentor who fits your stated criteria as closely as possible. Whether or not your mentor lives near to you, you are encouraged to develop a working relationship through the means that works best for both of you (phone, email, face-to-face, social networking, Skype). As with all networking activities, this program is essentially designed to give you an opportunity to seek out advice, information, and support.**

To Begin

Your mentor’s name and contact information has been provided to you. We encourage you to contact your mentor right away to introduce yourself and to schedule a first "meeting". You and your mentor are responsible for establishing goals for your individual mentoring relationship, working towards them and evaluating your collective efforts.

You are expected to return calls and/or emails to your mentor, just as you would be responsible to return calls and emails to your clients, colleagues, and collaterals when you practice social work. If your mentor does not respond to you, please contact Associate Dean, Denise Krause.

Your Role as a Student Mentee

  1. The role of the mentor is to provide a realistic view of the social work profession. Appropriate topics for discussion between students and mentors are issues of current concern to the profession, the mentor’s approaches to ethical and professional dilemmas, career goals, the scope of social work practice, lifelong learning, and quality of life issues in the School of Social Work and post-graduation.
  2. It is not appropriate for a student to seek assistance on researching substantive content for coursework or fieldwork.
  3. Your primary role within the School of Social Work is as a MSW student. Through the mentoring relationship, the opportunity may arise for you to engage in extracurricular activities. Keep in mind that you are responsible for balancing all activities you volunteer to engage in.
  4. While you may choose to discuss with your mentor matters such as the locations and types of practice you may be considering, the Mentoring Program is not designed to serve as a recruitment device or job placement program.
  5. Students and mentors are encouraged to meet informally for coffee or a meal at the mentor’s office, or anywhere else that is mutually convenient. You are expected to cover the costs that you incur. Mentors are asked to inform students of conferences, workshops, public meetings and any special social work-related event.
  6. Please remember that it can be challenging to accommodate schedules and it is the quality of the relationship, not the quantity of time spent that determines the success of the program. Students are expected to respect the time and limited availability of mentors. In some cases, telephone and/or email may be the primary means of communication between students and mentors.
  7. Conversations between students and mentors are confidential.

What Next?

The nature of your mentor/mentee relationship will largely depend on what you decide is best for you and your mentor. Some mentors and mentees continue to stay in touch, and others meet a few times and consider the result satisfactory. Feel free to express to your mentor what you hope to learn from this program.

We have broken the program up into PHASES to help the program progress. You will receive periodic email to remind you of the benchmarks.

Full Time Traditional:

Phase Description Expected Date of Completion
Phase I Reach Out Early September
Phase II First Meeting September-October
Phase III Continuing Activities October-May
Phase IV Progress Report to Mentor May
Phase V Program Feedback June

Full Time Advanced Standing:

Phase Description Expected Date of Completion
Phase I Reach Out June-July
Phase II First Meeting July-August
Phase III Continuing Activities August-May
Phase IV Progress Report to Mentor May
Phase V Program Feedback June

Part Time Advanced Standing:

Phase Description Expected Date of Completion
Phase I Reach Out February
Phase II First Meeting March-April
Phase III Continuing Activities April-December
Phase IV Progress Report to Mentor November
Phase V Program Feedback December

Phases of Communicating and Meeting

Phase 1: Reach out

Your mentor is given your name and contact information and may contact you before you get a chance to do it. However the impetus is ultimately on you to reach out to your mentor. You are encouraged to contact your mentor as soon as you receive their contact information and are required to reach out before October 1, via email or phone to set up a time to meet. (Note: "Reaching out" does not mean that you have to settle on a plan to meet. You may find that it will take a few tries to actually make contact with your mentor. You should make your first call or email during this phase.)

Sample Language for Contacting your Mentor

Here is some sample language for initiating contact, either by email or phone (it is a very loose guideline for a phone conversation). If you call and do not reach the person, this is the message you should leave, either on voicemail or with a person:

Dear Mr. /Ms. "Last Name":

My name is "name" and I have been assigned as your mentee in the UB School of Social Work Mentoring Program. I am calling/emailing to introduce myself and to arrange a time and place for us to meet. I am generally available (insert information here—"on Fridays", "any day after 3:00," etc.) My phone number is (insert information here, including alternate contact method if desired). Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this valuable program. I look forward to hearing from you.


Phase II:  First Meeting

During this period, you will make contact with your mentor and meet for the first time. You may need to follow up a few times to get a hold of them.

Dear Mr. /Ms. "Last Name":

My name is "name" and, as you may remember, I have been assigned as your mentee in the UB School of Social Work Mentoring Program. I am calling/emailing to follow up with you to arrange a time and place for us to meet. (Insert something about your enthusiasm here, like, "I am looking forward to discussing your work at the Buffalo Schools.") My phone number is (insert information here, including alternate contact method if desired). I look forward to hearing from you.

If you have continuing difficulty making contact with your mentor, try calling the reception or main number for his/her workplace to see if he/she has an assistant who can help you schedule your meeting. If you still cannot get in touch, please contact Associate Dean, Denise Krause (716-645-1223, dkrause@buffalo.edu).

Once you have made contact with your mentor, you should set up a time and place to meet. This is usually at his/her office, at a café or restaurant, or any other mutually agreeable place. It is standard to set the time of the meeting for about an hour, but certainly, you can agree on the duration with your mentor.

Preparing for Your Meeting

Before you meet with your mentor, take some time to prepare:

  1. Learn about yourself. Do some self-assessment. What do you like to do? What kind of work do you excel in? Why did you choose social work? This will help you describe your goals and preferences to your mentor, so he/she can help you make choices about professional development.
  2. Learn about your mentor, his/her workplace, and other information that is available.
  3. Be prepared to talk about yourself. This first meeting is a "get to know you" event, and the goal is to relax, have fun, and find common interests. Talk about your life before graduate school, your family, your personal interests, etc. Ask the mentor about his or hers, too!
  4. Think of some questions that the mentor can answer. What information would be helpful to you? What do you want to know about the profession, professional organizations, licensure, etc…?


Phase III: Continuing Activities

Follow-Up

Don’t forget to follow up with a quick thank-you note, either by email or written card. Remember, your mentor needs positive feedback too, and will be more likely to continue the mentoring relationship if he/she feels that you are benefitting from it and appreciate it!

If you hit it off, you should keep in touch with your mentor, and ask if you can meet again, or if he/she is willing to participate in any further activities with you. If appropriate, the following are some suggested follow-up activities, but you are not limited to these:

  1. Accompanying your mentor to a work-related event (non-confidential), such as a community- based meeting, workshop, conference or class.
  2. Accompanying your mentor to a professional social event, such as a NASW meeting, SSW event, or employer social event.
  3. Meeting with other people to whom your mentor refers you, either with our without your mentor present.

This is also the time to be following up on advice that your mentor might give you, such as joining an association, reading a specific article, reaching out to a contact he/she gave you, or subscribing to a blog he/she recommends.


Phase IV: Progress Report to Mentor

Mentoring is a reciprocal process. At least once, you must contact your mentor to follow up and update him/her on your current situation. You should include some feedback on the outcome of advice, information or referrals he/she has given you, e.g. "I took your advice and attended the meeting on Medicaid reimbursement, and met a really great person named Jane Smith. Do you know her?"

Even if your mentor’s initial advice didn’t have an immediate effect or outcome, check in anyway, to say that you tried it, and that it wasn’t quite right for you. Ask if he/she can advise you on how to get the most out of his/her advice, or if he/she can suggest an alternative, e.g. "I joined the NASW as you suggested, but I haven’t seen much activity about school social work. Can you suggest a way I can get more out of my membership? Or, is there another more active organization you can recommend?"

Your mentor may be able to advise you to contact a particular person, or to volunteer to help with a particular event. Ideally, when you do follow-up on a mentor’s suggestion, you should be letting him/her know the outcome. This needn’t be lengthy and onerous. It might involve a quick email, or a short follow-up meeting to go over your progress.


Phase V: Program Feedback

This program improves based on your feedback! We will ask you to fill out a feedback form to let us know about your experience.

Finally, here are a few tips to consider as you progress through the mentoring program:

Myths Associated with Mentoring

  • Mentoring only happens on a one-to-one, long term, face-to-face basis. (With modern technology mentoring can take place by e-mail, telephone, texts or fax and may need only a few hours over the long term.)
  • Taking time to mentor decreases productivity. (Mentoring improves productivity through better communication, goal clarity, increased commitment and success planning.)
  • A mentor needs to be older than those he/she mentors. (Innovations happen so rapidly or personal experience is such a great teacher that younger people often have opportunities to mentor older people. Peers are effective mentors!)
  • Mentoring is a rare experience and only occurs for a few great people. (Informal mentoring is probably the most frequent method of transmitting knowledge and wisdom in society. Virtually everyone has experienced it in some way.)
  • Mentoring requires a great time commitment that most people can’t afford. (Being mentored does not guarantee career advancement, but it does significantly increase learning, thereby accelerating opportunities. In this way, most people can’t afford NOT to become involved with mentoring.)
  • The person being mentored is the only person who benefits from the relationship. (For mentoring to be effective, all parties must perceive benefits!)
  • The best mentors are those who set out to be mentors. (The majority of mentoring occurs without conscious knowledge of either party, but it does help to cultivate key mentor attitudes and behaviors.)

Re-Assignments

Most mentor matches work out nicely, but there are times when a mentor may not be able to assist a mentee for various reasons. In that case, a mentee may feel he/she requires a reassignment for various reasons. The mentee should feel confident in requesting such a referral. You may want to ask for a new mentor if:

  • You feel your mentor is not supportive.
  • The mentor repeatedly misses meetings or arranged contacts, arrives late, or is not an active participant in meetings and contacts.
  • Your mentor relationship becomes inappropriately and uncomfortably personal.
  • There are other issues which cause rise to concern on your part as a mentee.

It is possible that a conflict of interest may arise based on a field placement assignment made after a mentoring match. Should this occur, please notify Associate Dean Krause and you will be matched with another mentor.

Watch our Mentor Program Orientation Video [9:57 mins]

Questions

If you have any questions about this program or your assigned mentor, please feel free to telephone the Associate Dean for Community Engagement and Alumni Relations, Denise Krause at 716-645-1223 or email at dkrause@buffalo.edu.

*The SSW Mentor Plan is adapted from the UB Law School Mentoring Program (2010).

**The mentoring relationship as administered by the SSW falls within the guidelines of the NASW Code of Ethics.