By Erika Heeren - December 10th, 2015
Today’s post comes from Erika Heeren, who is currently pursuing her B.S. in Communication. This is part 2 of a 3 part series. You can read the first part here.
In my last blog, I discussed some of the advantages of being an online, non-traditional student. In this installment, I’d like to address one of the disadvantages and how to overcome it.
If I were to pick one thing that I miss about attending a traditional, brick-and-mortar school, it would be the regular face-to-face interaction and mentorship with professors and faculty. However, as an online student, you don’t necessarily have to give up that part of collegiate life.
Here’s a groundbreaking thought: your college mentor does not have to be a professor to have an impact on your learning experience. As an online student, you’re already unique in your balancing act consisting of work, life, and studying. Finding a mentor who understands your background and drive for professional development is an equally valuable asset.
Here are some criteria to keep in mind when finding a mentor outside of the academic environment.
“If you want to be a lion, you must train with lions.” – Carlson Gracie
That is one of my favorite quotes. For me, my “lions” have all been found through volunteer opportunities.
Specifically, I started volunteering with SCORE; a non-profit dedicated to small business development. In this organization, I found a number of experienced retirees and successful business owners who have been where I am today. They understood the passion, the fear, and the mistakes that are often made along the way. These fellow volunteers have been pivotal in encouraging me throughout the process of opening my own business; and serve as a perfect complement to my educational experience at CSU Global. Even though I came to the organization to serve my community, I ended up gaining access to a wealth of support and valuable, real-world business knowledge.
I encourage my fellow CSU Global students to find similar organizations in your field of interest. Get to know your fellow volunteers and reach out to those with substantial experience in your career field. What you’ll gain is a trifecta of vision, academic education, and translation of that knowledge into practical application by someone who has done it all before.
If your goal as a student is professional development, then you can benefit from knowing someone who has an established network, and can introduce you into your desired industry. Talk to the people who are where you want to be, and who know the people that you would want to know.
When you attend these meetings or networking events, act and dress like you would at a job interview. Your mentor is putting their name and reputation on the line to help you make those connections; make sure you demonstrate proper respect for that assistance.
We’ll discuss different ways to find these connected mentors in Part 3 of this series, but it is important to have this factor in mind when considering whether you and your mentor would be a good fit.
Mentoring should never be a one-way street.
Find a way to help your mentor as a “thank you” for their time. Perhaps that means helping them learn a new technology, establish a new process improvement, or even introducing them into your network!
Don’t make the mentor/mentee relationship all about what you can get, but also what you can give. That mutual respect and understanding will be helpful to both of you long after you graduate!
While we do not have the opportunity to meet with our professors face-to-face as often as traditional students, do not underestimate the value of getting to know your professors in your online classes. Fortunately, your CSU Global professors are always available for questions and assistance over email or phone. Make the most of your access to technology and reach out to your professors in each class. They may be able to provide valuable insight into your academic process, even if they may not be able to serve as a consistent mentor.
I can say from personal experience, you will never regret the time spent building mentoring relationships. Combine the best of both worlds: connect with your professors online and reach out to experienced professionals in your field of interest to make the most of your online academic experience at CSU Global.
Erika Heeren is a CSU-Global alum, and the founder of boutique digital marketing agency Heeren Content & Strategy. She graduated in 2017 as a Distinguished Scholar with a bachelor of science in communications, specializing in small business and public administration. A military spouse herself, Erika actively advocates for veteran and spouse education, employment, and entrepreneurship. She also volunteers as a small business mentor with Treasure Valley SCORE.
Heeren is an award-winning writer and has been featured on Social Media Week, Wright Stuff Radio, Veteran on the Move, and NextGen Military Spouse. She lives Boise, Idaho with her husband and son. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, explorations in culinary creativity, and spending time with family.