The Faculty Mentoring Program at the University of Michigan
School of Dentistry

Peter Polverini, DDS, DMedSc
Dean, University of Michigan
School of Dentistry

By Peter Polverini, DDS, DMedSc
Dean, University of Michigan School of Dentistry

Although informal mentoring programs have been conducted at the University of Michigan and its School of Dentistry for many years, it is only in the past decade that a full complement of formal, department-based faculty mentoring programs have been established at the Dental School. These programs are designed specifically to attract, develop, and retain the most talented and academically competitive faculty, who are capable of demonstrating excellence in teaching, research, and service and are guided by the belief that, as with any investment, it is prudent to ensure that the faculty member you have made a significant investment in is given every opportunity to succeed.

An additional mentoring program is available to all faculty through the Dean’s Office. This program is primarily informational and serves to supplement but not to replace department-sponsored mentoring programs.

It is well established that successful mentoring occurs when experienced members of an organization/professional discipline take a less experienced colleague “under their wing,” and guide them through the academic and socialization process, including knowledge of institutional philosophy and how to access resources. Indeed, mentoring is a mechanism for empowering the protégé with the knowledge and strategies that will allow the person to achieve her/his full potential.

At Michigan, we believe that this is accomplished most effectively by passing along knowledge gained through years of living and achieving within the organization. Within this context, a formal mentoring relationship becomes an excellent strategy for embedding the norms and values central to the culture of an institution in the protégé’s consciousness and value system and communicating the message that adopting these norms and values is critical to the protégé’s success.

Because the program at the University of Michigan is set up for the benefit of junior faculty, the more junior partner in each mentor/protégé pair is expected to take responsibility for making the relationship work. The mentoring program in most cases begins during the recruitment process.

An example of a successful mentoring program is one currently employed in the Department of Periodontics & Oral Medicine. Once a mutually agreed upon mentor/protégé pairing has been established, the protégé is expected to contact the mentor to set up the first meeting, at which time both parties work to reach a clear understanding of the objectives they hope to achieve. They are expected to agree on the frequency, duration, and place of meetings, and to agree about whether or not the mentor will have an “open door” policy and be available to his/her protégés at any time.

Protégés are encouraged to clearly formulate their career goals, define any problems, and be prepared to discuss concerns openly with their mentor at scheduled meetings. At the same time, it is important for the protégé to know when the mentor will communicate with the department chair on issues regarding promotion, salary, and other matters concerning the protégé’s professional future.

When the mentoring process works effectively, it provides tangible benefits to the mentor as well as to the protégé. In the process of helping to shape the careers of junior faculty, senior faculty not only gain the gratification of sharing their knowledge and experience with protégés, they also very often experience personal self-renewal.

In the majority of cases, both protégés and mentors find the experience rewarding. In those instances where the mentor and protégé are not a good fit, it is up to the protégé to meet with her/his department chair to make other arrangements. An important aspect of the faculty-mentoring program at the University of Michigan is that it is not overly prescriptive. Some junior faculty require a lot of attention, while others require much less. Regardless of the approach, the goal is the same-to ensure that every faculty member is given every opportunity to succeed.

Ensuring Accountability
All faculty participate in a yearly performance review led by their department chairs. While each faculty mentor is responsible for his/her own success or failure, department chairs are held accountable for the overall success of their entire faculty. The chairs must ensure that effective mentoring programs are available to all new faculty. Chairs are reviewed annually and the success of their faculty is taken into account when determining merit salary increases and resource allocation to each department.

At Michigan, we use numerous yardsticks to measure success. These include peer-reviewed publications; extramural research awards; peer and student teaching evaluations; speaking invitations outside the university; successful local, national, and international committee service; and successful advancement through the faculty ranks.

Staff-Mentoring Program Complements Faculty Program
Recently, we introduced a staff-mentoring program, which complements the faculty program. Like their senior faculty counterparts, staff supervisors are expected to shepherd new staff through their orientation period and to assist them in accessing university resources and moving forward in their careers. Above all, we encourage staff to take advantage of educational opportunities through the university and opportunities for advancement through the university’s staff-advancement program. Our commitment to staff self-improvement and position advancement is as central to our mission as our commitment to faculty success. In both cases, the goal is to promote a culture of collegiality and success. There are no dead-end faculty or staff positions at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry.