posted June 11, 2003

Book Examines Mentoring of New Faculty

A new book by Dr. Caroline Simon of the Hope College faculty addresses a topic close to home: the mentoring of new faculty at church-related colleges.

Dr. Simon, a professor of philosophy, is the lead author of "Mentoring for Mission: Nurturing New Faculty at Church-Related Colleges," published recently by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

The book offers suggestions for schools interested in building or enhancing programs geared toward helping young faculty develop as teachers and scholars within their school's particular context. It draws on the experiences of Hope, which is affiliated with the Reformed Church in America, and a number of other Protestant and Catholic colleges and universities.

Simon stresses that the book doesn't present a road map, but rather coaches institutions to develop their own practical wisdom so that they can develop programs that fit their individual culture and identity.

"We're not telling people the 'one way' to mentor faculty," she said. "But we are giving them a strategy for how to think about a unified vision and how that vision relates to their particular institution."

The book considers topics such as Christian views of personhood, the role of Christian virtues in mentoring, the value of mentoring in discerning one's particular calling as a teacher and a scholar, and how different emphases of particular Christian traditions shape mentoring at schools founded by different religious bodies. The book also includes advice on program design and implementation, problem-solving for ongoing mentoring programs, and how institutions can sustain mentoring even amid the busyness of day-to-day life.

Colleges and universities that engage in mentoring, Simon said, can realize an added benefit beyond the difference made to the individual faculty members, since the process requires each school to be deliberate about understanding the role of its Christian tradition.

"Doing new faculty development has an additional benefit for the institution in that it forces the institution to figure out who it is," she said. "That can keep the conversation of how the Christian background of the college is relevant to the academic mission on the front burner of the institution."

The book was developed through the "Mentoring Models Initiative," a cooperative effort funded by the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts, a national network of more than 60 church-related colleges and universities interested in exploring Christian understandings of the nature of the academic vocation. Simon worked with seven other authors in surveying the experiences of institutions that had run mentoring programs with network support, including Hope.

Simon had experienced Hope's "Teaching Enhancement Workshop" as a new faculty member in 1988. She subsequently led portions of the college's faculty mentoring program, and also directed a Hope-hosted summer institute sponsored by the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts for young doctoral scholars from around the nation interested in considering how Christian faith can inform higher education.

In exploring the topic from a general perspective, Simon noted that she developed a deeper appreciation for Hope's commitment to mentoring.

"One of the things I learned from this process was that there are many, many places that are doing far less than Hope is in faculty development," she said. "We as faculty can be grateful for what the college does."

The college's multi-day "Teaching Enhancement Workshop" for new faculty runs shortly before the start of classes each fall. Ongoing mentoring for new faculty at Hope includes an additional workshop in the summer, as well as connecting professors in their second year at the college with a senior faculty member who can provide both suggestions concerning professional development and perspective on being a member of the Hope community in particular.

Simon's co-authors represent a variety of experiences in church-related higher education. They are: Laura Bloxham, professor of English at Whitworth College; Denise Doyle, vice president for academic and student affairs at the University of the Incarnate Word; Mel Hailey, professor of political science at Abilene Christian University; Jane Hokanson Hawks, associate professor of nursing at Midland Lutheran College; Kathleen Light, associate professor of nursing at the University of the Incarnate Word; Dominic P. Scibilia, a member of the religion faculty at St. Peter's Preparatory School, New Jersey; and Ernest Simmons, professor of religion at Concordia College.

"Mentoring for Mission: Nurturing New Faculty at Church Related Colleges" is 139 pages long, and is available in paperback for $14.