Inclusive Staff Mentoring in the Dietrich School

Michele Montag, Co-Principal Investigator
Maureen Lazar, Co-Principal Investigator

The goal of our Pitt Seed Project is to enhance both recruiting and retention efforts for staff in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences by developing and implementing a mentoring program that fosters an inclusive and supportive workplace.

In Fall 2019, we launched an 18-month pilot program called CONNECTED: A Partnered Growth Program for staff in the Dietrich School. Rather than dividing the group into mentors and mentees, we took an innovative approach to mentorship whereby every participant––who we call CONNECTORS––is considered both a mentor and a mentee. The approach was designed to mitigate potential power relationships and recognize that every person has both things to learn and knowledge to offer; individuals are partners in their paths toward achieving goals.

Participants began the program with a significant amount of training on mentoring and partnership fundamentals. They participated as a cohort in the Anti-Defamation League’s “A Campus of Difference” program, an intensive experience consisting of four half-day sessions focused on broadening understandings of equity and inclusiveness while fostering a safe space for people to have challenging conversations.

CONNECTED participants

“I think this training was wonderful in that I learned from others, and I had time to reflect on my own biases and my intentions. I have a greater awareness that my word choice or attempts at humor may carry a larger, and perhaps negative, impact.”

In January 2020, all participants were introduced to the concept of StoryThriving, a method of storytelling in 60 seconds. After learning the key constructs of StoryThriving, participants began crafting their personal narratives encompassing the goals they are working on to accomplish during their time in the CONNECTED program. They have created stories, recorded, and shared them with others in the program. The group has met at least monthly to work on their stories. Since January, partners have been meeting monthly over coffee or lunch to discuss their goals and stories. This is an opportunity for each to develop a connection with a colleague in the school. Post-COVID, the group has met monthly via Zoom and has continued to meet as partners online.

Other activities have included attending diversity events across Pitt, reading and discussing White Fragility, attending socially conscious theater events, hosting diversity discussions virtually, and more.

The program’s overarching goal is to improve recruitment and retention by fostering an inclusive environment where staff enjoy their work and where they can connect in meaningful ways on personal and professional levels. The success thus far has been inspiring, with the potential to be truly transformative. When the CONNECTORS come together, there is an excitement to see one another and engage with the group. They have bonded together and genuinely care for one another. We are grateful to provide this opportunity for the staff in our school.

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