Finding Community Through Mutual Mentorship

What can women in differing roles with varying years of experience learn from each other? As it turns out, a lot.  The Oregon Women in Higher Education conference not only provides professional development and networking, but a place to reflect on past experience and spark new ideas. And this doesn’t have to end once the conference does. The mutual mentorship program offers a chance to keep the conversations going for the rest of the year with guided conversation, reflection prompts, and encouragement. Our mentorship group formed at the OWHE Conference in January 2018 and consisted of three Oregon State University higher education professionals. We knew each other prior to being matched as mutual mentors, but hadn’t worked together before. Jenesis Long works as an Academic Counselor for the MAAPS program from her home in Bend, Oregon, Alex Aljets works on the OSU Corvallis campus as the University Innovation Alliance Fellow, and Sarah Kyllo works in Corvallis at OSU as well as the First-Year Head Advisor for the College of Engineering. We chose to write a blog post to share our experiences, what we learned, and why others should consider doing the mentorship program.  

Why did you decide to participate in the OWHE mentorship program?

Jenesis: I was looking for a way to connect with colleagues beyond my immediate circle to expand my understanding of the field and create new professional relationships with women who understand the dynamic of working in higher education.

Alex: Professional development is important to me, but I find it difficult to make time given other work and life demands. I decided to participate in the program to make time and mental space for reflection and working towards my goals.  

Sarah: I attended my first OWHE conference in 2017 and left feeling really inspired by the passion and life stories from other women I met. But, like most conferences I attend, I find that once I return back to work, I get distracted by everyday work and it’s hard to keep those conversations and connections flourishing. The mentorship program appealed to me because it would give me a structured way to keep reflecting and learning from other women in higher education throughout the year.

How did your mentorship relationship work? 

Jenesis: We met monthly via Skype (and later switched to Zoom as it was easier for us all to access) over our lunch break. We reviewed the OWHE mentoring program handbook activities, caught up on our professional and personal life, and held each other accountable to our previously established goals.

What advice would you have for those who are interested in participating? 

Jenesis: Establish a format and schedule that works well for you all to meet regularly. Share honestly about your struggles, and ask for advice.

Alex: At the end of your meeting time for that week, find a good time for your next month's call and schedule it right then. It seems simple but this practice helped keep us on track for the full year of mentoring activities. It's easy to lose touch and get busy with other things otherwise!

What was the most important thing you learned?

Sarah: I loved that we were able to connect not only about professional work goals but talk about personal goals. What I learned is that sharing your goals with others doesn’t just help keep you accountable, but it connects you to their ideas and networks. The right people in your life want to help you achieve your goals in whatever way they can. This might be a book recommendation or a connection to a colleague for coffee, or brainstorming new creative ideas.  

Jenesis: The most important thing that I learned was that it’s very common to feel imposter syndrome and that we all are always learning and growing in our own ways.

What does mentorship mean to you?  

Sarah: Mentorship isn’t someone who is wise matched with someone who needs to learn. It is a mutual relationship, a place for sharing ideas and connecting.

Jenesis: Mentorship to me means sharing resources, insight, and guidance through a vulnerable relationship.

How did your participation in the OWHE mentorship program influence the way you view your work?

Jenesis: As a new professional, I felt a new sense of validation around how I view myself as a professional because I was regularly engaged in reflection on my role, goals, and learning opportunities.

Alex: It helped me be more reflective in how I view the meaning of my work. Through our conversations and the workbook activities, I reconnected with the reasons why I love working in higher education.

How did the mutual mentorship format influence your relationships?

SarahWe always started the meeting with about 20 minutes of just chatting and catching before jumping into the questions for that month, which I think really helped us to connect as friends and not just colleagues who were working on a project.  

Jenesis: No one was “the expert,” so I felt that we all could contribute as much or as little as we felt comfortable with given the topic at hand. This allowed for collaborative collegial relationships to develop.

Would you recommend the OWHE mentoring program to others? Why?

Jenesis: Yes. The OWHE mentoring program provides the structures and accountability needed to establish meaningful connections as long as you commit to the relationship. Finding community in new spaces with new people is valuable to enhancing your professional growth.

Alex: Yes, accountability to my mentoring partners kept me focused on the professional development goals I set for myself. Knowing next month they would ask me about my progress helped me prioritize learning, growth, and reflection activities.

Sarah:  Absolutely! I loved talking with Jenesis and Alex each month. I got to know them so much better and witnessed our friendships grow as a result. I know mentoring groups might struggle to meet after the first few months and end the program, but even if this happens, the handbook and activities provide ways for you to think about your own professional development and goals and encourages you to keep networking with others. I think as women we sometimes feel the sense we have to prove something so we hesitate to ask for help. I believe that one of the strongest traits women have is our ability for connect and form relationships. The OWHE mentoring program helps facilitate that.   

As a mentorship group, we all agree that this has been a great addition to our professional and personal paths. There is always something that you can both learn and give through mentorship, and we hope that you take advantage of the opportunity. We would recommend that if you are interesting in joining a mentorship group that you join the mentorship lunch at the Oregon Women in Higher Education conference or contact Tricia Brand, who coordinates the OWHE Mutual Mentorship program.  


This post was submitted by Alex Aljets, Jenesis Long, and Sarah Kyllo. All three OWHE members have indicated that they would be open to connecting to you to discuss the Mutual Mentorship Program! Their emails are as follows:;; and

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