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Professional Opinion

Making higher ed mentorship intentional

James Bond and the importance of learning from each other
University Business, November 2017
Nido Qubein is president of High Point University in North Carolina.
Nido Qubein is president of High Point University in North Carolina.

I was watching the movie Skyfall with my family recently when I saw a scene that channels my feelings about mentorship in higher education. 

In this 007 film, James Bond meets his new quartermaster. What he doesn’t expect is that his quartermaster, named “Q,” will be half his age.

“You still have spots,” Bond tells him, using Q’s youthful complexion as a judgment against his abilities.

“Age is no guarantee of efficiency,” Q tells Bond.

“And youth is no guarantee of innovation,” Bond replies.

There is a lot we can learn about the notion of experience from this dialogue. Today’s students see the world as Q does: Age is no guarantee of efficiency. We must understand that our value to students lies in our ability to provide intentional mentorship.

Mentorship happens organically all of the time. A student and faculty member discuss a topic after class and forge a relationship that may guide the student’s future decisions. Meanwhile, the faculty member can also learn from the students and their perspective.

As educators, we have to make mentorship more intentional. In a world that frequently debates the value of higher education, mentorship is the foundational element of quality learning. It takes genuine effort—face-to-face interactions, patience, and yes, a willingness from both parties to openly receive each other’s perspectives.

And it matters to employers, too. 

In one study, when employers were asked the reasons new hires don’t work out, their overwhelming responses were “coachability” and “emotional intelligence”—skills that students can develop, in part, by learning from their mentor.

Instead of hoping that mentorship happens, we have to help both students and our colleagues understand the fundamentals of making these connections.

Mentorship ingrained in our campus culture

At High Point University, we have built an ecosystem of support to ensure students experience meaningful guidance throughout their educational journey. Every freshman has a professional success coach who either specializes in their major or assists students who have yet to declare their field of study.

Our Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Works has introduced a Research Rookies program that encourages freshmen to prepare for high-level research with a faculty advisor as soon as they arrive, rather than waiting until they are upperclassmen.

A community of career advisors, study abroad advisors, peer mentors and others support the holistic growth of our students. And I teach the Freshman Seminar on Life Skills so that I, personally, can mentor students on matters important to the marketplace.

Our faculty and staff know that students should see us as heroes, models and mentors. I remind our team of this important realization: We live. They watch. They learn.

Students don’t selectively decide who or what they are exposed to on campus. So we need to all contribute to the positive development of their mind, their heart and their soul. That means mentorship is everyone’s job, from faculty leading classrooms, to staff leading student support services, to the hospitality team member serving food in our cafeteria.

Breaking down walls

Though they will be 20-something-years-old when they graduate, with the benefit of mentorship and directed experiences, they will have amassed the wisdom usually acquired over many years.

In essence, mentorship compresses time. That’s what they need to stand out in today’s world. And that can’t happen without you.

The scene that began with hesitancy between Bond and Q ends with Bond extending a hand. Q accepts, and they smile at each other while shaking hands. The walls are broken down. They’re ready to work in tandem.

Remember that the next time you see a wide-eyed, eager freshman. Extend a handshake that lets them know you’re ready to give the gift of mentorship, and perhaps even receive it, too.


Nido Qubein is president of High Point University in North Carolina.

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