E-Net News

New book encourages peer mentoring in higher education

Peter Felten, executive director of Elon University’s Center for Engaged Learning, co-authored a guide for colleagues at any college to build stronger relationships.

Peter Felten, executive director of the Center for Engaged Learning and the executive director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, leads a workshop on May 13, 2013. Felten co-authored a book that encourages people employed in higher education to form mentoring communities as a way to find deeper meaning in their work.

The classes. The grading. The research. The committee meetings. It’s easy sometimes for people who work on a college campus to lose sight of why they do what they do.

Being part of a mentoring community, however, can help prevent that tendency. As Peter Felten documented in research and conversations with thought leaders across the nation, finding mentors brings renewed energy to faculty and staff, which makes for the better education of students and a stronger university climate.

His findings about mentors are part of “Transformative Conversations: A Guide to Mentoring Communities Among Colleagues in Higher Education,” published this spring Jossey-Bass. Written with colleagues at the University of Washington, Gallaudet University, and the University of California, Irvine, it is Felten’s first co-authored book.

“The premise is that if you create mentoring communities, you’re happier and better at your work, your colleagues are happier and better at their work, and that you have ripple effects that impact students and the institution,” Felten said.

As executive director of Elon’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, Felten five years ago was an invited participant at the Inter-Generational Mentoring Community at the Fetzer Institute, a nonprofit that aimed to connect higher education leaders and faculty close to retirement with those who are emerging in their fields.

It was there that he met Edward Taylor, H-Dirksen L. Bauman and Aaron Kheriaty. The four men came together to explore how change happens on campus, and the role of conversation, culture and mentoring.

As part of that work, Felten established his own mentoring group with four Elon faculty and staff colleagues of whom he knew little at the time but whose reputations led him to believe they would be insightful people. The group started meeting regularly for lunch, where they would trade stories of how they felt about their current work and the meaning they derived from their responsibilities at the university.

Felten points to these relationships as evidence that mentoring can be simple in design if done intentionally. “We just need to create space for it, and space is cheap,” he said. “It’s eating Thai food over lunch or grabbing coffee. It doesn’t need to be sanctioned or have a big budget or a fancy building.

The book has generated lots of praise.

“In the ‘superstorm’ of writings about the crisis in higher education, this little gem of a book stands out like a mindfulness bell,” Diana Chapman Walsh, president emerita of Wellesley College, writes in her endorsement of the guide. “It call us back to the only thing that truly matters - the energy and wisdom buried in the minds and hearts of dedicated educators.”

Felten serves the university as an assistant provost, as executive director of the Center for Engaged Learning, and as executive director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning. He has published widely on engaged learning and the scholarship of teaching, and he is on the editorial boards of the International Journal for Academic Development and the International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

Felten was president from 2010-2011 of the POD Network, an international association for teaching and learning centers in higher education. He often speaks and presents at colleges and universities worldwide on faculty development, scholarship of teaching and learning, and visual literacy.

Before coming to Elon University in 2005, Felten served as associate director of the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University. He also has experience teaching at Oklahoma State University and Tulsa Community College.

Felten graduated summa cum laude from Marquette University with a bachelor’s degree in history. He earned his doctorate in history from the University of Texas.

Eric Townsend,
5/16/2013 8:00 AM