By Sarah Holland
ACUA Board of Directors
“The mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting.” ~Plutarch
By way of introduction, I am one of the current elected Directors of the ACUA and a member of the Executive Committee. I am also a Principal Investigator at a cultural heritage consulting company (www.grayandpape.com); an avid lover of books, music, cats, and travel; and a passionate believer in the difference one person can make in the wider world, one conversation or interaction at a time. During my time on the ACUA Board, I have learned more than I can begin to quantify here, and that knowledge has come from the ongoing interactions with other board members and students I have met as part of my position on the Board. I have been honored to participate in numerous committees, decisions, and discussions, all of which have been learning experiences in their own right. But perhaps the most enjoyable part of the experience has been serving as the chair of the Mentoring Committee for the past two years, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
When I first joined the ACUA Board, the mentoring committee was just finding its feet within the organization. You can read more about those early days at the following blog link from 2017, https://acuaonline.org/nautical-headlines/acua-mentorship-program-debuts-in-new-orleans/. The structure of the ACUA mentoring program remains largely the same as outlined in the link, which I think reflects the fact that as a mentoring program within the larger SHA conference it works for both mentors and mentees. We have consistently had a wide range of mentors available each year to cover almost any topic that students may be interested in discussing. As a fledgling member of the board at the New Orleans meeting, I was delighted to volunteer shortly before the conference to act as a mentor at the SHA Conference, as it seemed an ideal way to get to know other mentors and to work on my own skills in that kind of interaction. At the time, I was just beginning as a Big Sister in my local Big Brothers/Big Sisters (BB/BS) organization, a role that has continued to this day (although contact with my Little has been more than a bit upended due to the pandemic!) and through the training and preparation for being a volunteer in BB/BS was already aware of the impact that mentors can have on a person’s life (https://www.bbbs.org/). Out of necessity, the ACUA mentoring program has focused on a constrained number of interactions during the conference. However, a number of those meetings have led to ongoing relationships and communication between the mentor and the mentee and, in one specific case, has led to a mentee from an earlier year in the program now serving as a Graduate Student Associate on the Board. I genuinely believe this speaks to the strengths of the program and hope more mentees will follow this path.
Fast forward to the SHA Conference in St. Charles, Missouri, and I found myself saying yes to being the chair of the Mentoring Committee, my first experience as a Committee Chair while on the ACUA Board. As an organization, we were keen to see the mentoring program continue as it had gained some traction by this time and we could all see the benefit. From a personal perspective, it gave me the opportunity to reach out to the previous chair and to learn the process of publicizing the program in advance of the conference and gathering the student applications, organizing volunteer mentors, and facilitating introductions between mentors and mentees. In many ways, this was in itself an opportunity for me to reach out as a mentee seeking guidance from someone who had already been in the role for the first two years of the program. I have continued in this role in subsequent years and am looking forward to serving in this capacity once more for the 2022 conference. As much as anything, it provides me the opportunity to work with, and learn from, the others on the mentoring committee and those that volunteer as mentors. I learn something every year in these interactions and welcome the chance to continue to learn from the wonderful mentors who participate in the program. I am grateful to all of them for their presence and ongoing help! Obviously, the 2021 virtual conference was an unexpected twist but, from the feedback I have received, it nonetheless resulted in a number of really worthwhile meetings and conversations. Despite the different dynamic, I know from my own experience that once again, mentoring meetings were my favorite part of the conference!
During my role as a mentor within the ACUA program, I have attended numerous meetings with undergraduate, graduate, and early career students and young professionals. Mentors have attended the Past Presidents’ Receptions the last few years, providing additional opportunities for the mentors to meet informally with anyone who had questions or simply wanted to talk about their research and their aspirations. During these meetings, participants have come with exciting and informed questions, giving us as mentors an opportunity to help where we could and make introductions on the fly in a setting conducive to such meetings as only a large academic conference can provide. I can say, without exception, that I have thoroughly enjoyed these events and the numerous students and early career professionals that I have had the good fortune to speak to during either the reception or individual one-on-one meetings. This is my way of saying that in a very real way, what may look like a mentoring meeting becomes a two-way dialogue, one which is as inspiring to me as a mentor as I hope it is productive for the mentee or student. The wide range of research interests I have discussed, the varying number of career trajectories I have witnessed, and the insightful questioning I have experienced in every interaction has been a welcome reminder of my own beginnings in the field more than a few years ago now. It is the reason why mentoring can be such a powerful asset to participants on both sides of the dynamic!
I am delighted to note that the SHA is considering implementing a similar program and look forward to assisting and cheerleading that effort in any way that I can. Additionally, the current ACUA Graduate Student Representatives are actively seeking feedback on implementing a peer-to-peer mentoring program. I have included their request for input here in the hope that it might catch the eye of a current reader as something of interest:
The Graduate Student Associates of the ACUA have developed an idea for a peer mentor program where graduate students focusing on underwater and maritime archaeology will be paired with undergraduate students to facilitate conversations on all topics pertaining to this career path both in school and in the field. At this time we are seeking input regarding how the program moves forward and what will best benefit students. Please email email@example.com with any questions, comments, or suggestions. Your response would be much appreciated!
For myself, I am definitely looking forward to the next conference and the next group of mentees! January is National Mentoring Month (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Mentoring_Month), which seems like perfect timing really given the SHA conference calendar. While the origins of the month are more related to young people of school age rather than university age and beyond, the importance of such programs seems clear. Mentor-mentee relationships can impact both parties in a myriad of important and unexpected ways. My own alma mater, the University of Southampton, has presented a great list here if you’re curious: https://www.southampton.ac.uk/professional-development/mentoring/benefits-of-a-mentoring-relationship.page.
One of my reasons for writing this post is to encourage more participation in the ACUA mentoring program, whether through the conference-based mentoring program or through the Graduate Student Associates peer-to-peer program, which I hope is on the horizon. If you are interested in learning more about the conference-based mentoring program, feel free to get in touch with me here, firstname.lastname@example.org. As part of that goal, I welcome a flood of applicants from mentees and look forward to working with another inspiring group of mentors as the Chair of the committee for the 2022 conference. Beyond that, I would encourage anyone reading this far along to look at the resources below. Consider the possibility of being a mentor in your own life to someone who may need a bit of guidance; seek out those relationships and possibilities. Or, perhaps, it will inspire you to seek out a mentor for yourself if you think such a relationship would help you decide on next steps, either personally or professionally. As the title would suggest, I hope you will find ways either to be the match or to find the spark in someone else to inspire your own next steps!
Why Mentoring Someone Can Change Your Life
8 Ways Having a Mentor Can Change Your Life
A Guide to Understanding the Role of a Mentor
National Mentoring Resource Center
National Mentoring Month
Categorised in: Deep Thoughts