Photo caption: Getting to know one another over lunch in mid-August, new faculty member Dr. Briana Rockler (left) and her mentor, Cedar Marie, look forward to building a connection based on both teaching and common interests and hobbies.
Each year the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire brings not only new students to campus, but also new faculty and staff, all eager to make their contributions toward the long-standing Blugold reputation of excellence in education.
A program sponsored by Academic Affairs and run through the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) is dedicated to a special aspect of onboarding those new faculty members each year — faculty mentoring.
The UW-Eau Claire Educator Mentor Program pairs incoming faculty, instructional academic staff, adjunct instructors and visiting instructors with seasoned Blugold faculty and instructors for one academic year. The pairs are set to be from different departments, and matches are based on shared interests in teaching, research, campus life and community activities.
Dr. Angie Stombaugh, CETL director, sees firsthand the value of these connections and is grateful to be able to offer the support network of volunteers to a new cohort of faculty each year.
“The mentor program is a valuable opportunity for new instructors to connect with another instructor outside of their department, connections that are important in learning about our campus and navigating the first-year experience,” Stombaugh says. “Our experienced instructors who volunteer to be mentors love the opportunity to give back to our campus and share their experiences. Many say they feel rejuvenated in their own teaching by the experience.”
Asked to meet at least once a month, these connections help those new to campus and Eau Claire to discover different perspectives, explore the campus and community, and make cross-campus connections with faculty and staff.
New faculty member Dr. Briana Rockler, assistant professor of public health and environmental studies, was happy to learn about the program during faculty orientation in August.
“I have been lucky to have some exceptional academic mentors throughout my career, so when I saw that they offered this program for new faculty, I was eager for the opportunity to connect with more experienced faculty on the UWEC campus,” says Rockler, who was paired in the program with Cedar Marie, assistant professor of art & design.
“I was excited to find that Cedar and I share a common interest in food systems sustainability, and the ways in which culture and gender intersect with food procurement. I look forward to her guidance and insight as I become more established at UW-Eau Claire.”
Program benefits are mutual
Having gone through the program as a mentee in 2014, Marie is thankful for the connection she shared with her mentor, Dr. Leah Olson-McBride, professor and chair of the social work department, and is happy to now pay that experience forward.
“Moving to a new location and campus is stressful,” Marie recalls. “Participating in the new faculty mentor program helped me to transition from a large research institution to this smaller regional comprehensive. Being welcomed and supported made a big difference. Leah was very patient with all of my questions, plus she introduced me to my favorite coffee shops.”
Many Blugold faculty and instructors return year after year to serve as mentors through CETL, especially when they continue to see the ripple effect of these initial connections. Dr. Matthew Evans, professor of physics and astronomy, has been a mentor for several years and deeply values the personal and community impact of the network the program creates.
“Mentoring is a two-way street,” Evans says. “As mentors, we help new faculty with topics from department personnel committees to favorite restaurants in town. In turn, new faculty bring a fresh perspective to and about our university. These relationships help build on the connectedness of our community, on campus and beyond.”
Evans also values the continual opportunities to reflect on his tenure at UW-Eau Claire and all the reasons he sees it as a wonderful place to work and live.
“Getting coffee or going for a walk with a colleague I don’t know yet is a great reminder of how I navigated my first few years, and it helps me show them why I stayed.”