Advisement is upon us again and is not always easy to fit into our busy schedules.  I posit, however, that this is an exciting time when we have the opportunity to make a significant difference in the lives of our students.  I ask that you consider reframing the language for “advisees” and think of them as “mentees.”  This suggests a completely different level of commitment that speaks to the heart of who we are as a community at SUNY Plattsburgh and to our EHHS shared value of “Helping Students to Achieve Goals.”   

I pass on an interesting historical example of mentoring, one that might surprise you.  In 1508, Pope Julius II asked Michelangelo to paint the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel.  Michelangelo told Pope Julius II that he was a sculpture (he had already sculpted the Pieta by 1499, the statue of David by 1504, and a large bronze statue of Pope Julius II by 1507) and wanted to sculpt an elaborate tomb for him. Michelangelo had not done any fresco painting (painting on wet plaster) for 20 years, a process he didn’t really enjoy.  Ross King (2003) stated that, “Pope Julius II was not a man one wished to offend.  No pope before or since has enjoyed such a fearsome reputation” (p. 9).  Long story short, Michelangelo was commissioned to paint the ceiling.  He hired a number of assistants to help him, some of whom were well-trained frescoists.  When Michelangelo and the assistants started painting, it did not go well.  In fact, Michelangelo wrote to the Pope saying, “Indeed I told Your Holiness that this is not my art.  What I have done is spoiled.  If you do not believe it, send someone to see.”  Pope Julius II sent someone who actually mentored Michelangelo in how to solve his difficulties, particularly with the plaster mixture.  Generations of awe-inspired viewers can be grateful that Pope Julius II continued to believe in Michelangelo’s talent.    

Without knowing this story, you may have believed that Michelangelo was gifted in the techniques necessary to paint the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, but he wasn’t.  It took a number of people to help him believe in himself and to improve techniques necessary for his talent to be revealed fully.    

What does it take to be a good mentor?  In Ken Robinson’s book The Element, four important roles of mentoring are presented along with some insights. 

  • The first role of a mentor is recognition…identifying what others have not noticed yet.
  • The second role of a mentor is encouragement.  Mentors lead us to believe that we can achieve something that seemed improbable or impossible to use before we met them.  They don’t allow us to succumb to self-doubt for too long, or the notion that our dreams are too large for us.  They stand by to remind us of the skills we already possess and what we can achieve if we continue to work hard.
  • The third role of a mentor is facilitation.  Mentors can help lead us toward our Element by offering us advice and techniques, paving the way for us, and even allowing us to falter a bit while standing by to help us recover and learn from our mistakes.
  • The forth role of a mentor is stretching.  Effective mentors push us past what we see as our limits.  Much as they don’t allow us to succumb to self-doubt, they also prevent us from doing less with our lives than we can.  A true mentor reminds us that our goal should never be to be “average” at our pursuits.

As you mentor students over the next two weeks, please remember that everyone has undiscovered and underdeveloped talents.  Please look for these talents, encourage your mentees, facilitate paths that will aid in their development, and help them see beyond their current self-imposed horizons.  Our students will best achieve their full potential through the process of mentoring.    

It is common to hear the question, “Who were the most influential teachers in your life?”  We easily recall these individuals when answering this question and can describe why we selected them.  In closing, I ask, “Who were the most influential mentors in your life and why?” Reflecting on this and transforming your answers into action with your advisees/mentees over the next two weeks will change lives, including yours. 

   King, R. (2003). Michelangelo & the Pope’s ceiling. New York, NY: Walker and Company.

   Robinson, K., & Aronica, L. (2009). The element: How finding your passion changes everything.  New York, NY: Penguin Group.