Telementoring: Honing new talent via the Internet

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Individuals and small businesses increasingly are turning to telementoring, or online mentoring, using e-mail as the primary tool to connect with students, business apprentices and young professionals. A form of the practice has been around since the late 1970s, when programs connected school children with experts throughout the country.

Small business owner Karen Taylor Bass, president of the New York multimedia and events company TaylorMade Media (T.M.M.), has been mentoring for 15 years. She and T.M.M. currently mentor seven individuals. “My mentees vary from students to professionals,” she says. Her firm’s Web site, www.TaylorMadeMediaPr.com, carries a “student mentor” link that tells visitors how to participate in T.M.M.’s mentoring program.

At TeleMentor.org, an organization that links students with mentors worldwide, an International Telementoring Program helps students learn how to collaborate effectively with professionals, says the program’s coordinator, Zac Burson. The program is project-based, he explains. “Students develop project management, communication, research, and career and education planning skills,” he says.

New talent
Businesses large and small see telementoring as a way to find and hone new talent. “Mentors have a chance to help the next generation of professionals become more effective students and adults,” says Burson. “One of the benefits of telementoring is that even young professionals climbing the career ladder while also raising families can still serve as mentors. By spending just 30 minutes to an hour a week, they can make a profound difference in how young people view their prospects for the future,” he says.

Danielle Troyan, director at the  National Mentoring Partnership, says e-mentoring is growing and so is demand. “Many mentoring programs have a shortage of mentors. E-mentoring enables people who could not otherwise mentor because of geography or time. E-mentoring is also being used by traditional mentoring programs to provide another method of contact for those who are already in mentoring relationships,” she says.

Flexibility
Busy professionals who wish to mentor find telementoring more flexible. “There are two major types of e-mentoring: curriculum-based and friendship-based. Some programs use e-mentoring to supplement a face-to-face relationship, while others only communicate electronically,” says Troyan.

Bass finds it helps her and her staff to maximize their time. “I encourage all the mentees [I have] to share information and talk via the Internet. Usually, we converse over the Internet two hours per week. [Telementoring] lets me multitask, keep to schedule and it’s more immediate,” she says. But she does face-to-face meetings as well. “There needs to be a substantial face time component. Virtual mentoring is a part of maximizing time, so I try to keep the tech tools to a minimum for human contact,” she says.

Where to Go for Help
Most organizations have a screening process, and then match participants with a protégé. Burson advises people interested in mentoring to contact organizations that are members of the National Mentoring Partnership (www.mentoring.org).

IMentor (www.imentor.org) is a youth program in New York that matches students from low-income neighborhoods in New York City with volunteer adult mentors and connects them via e-mail, videoconferencing and internal online forums. Started in 1999, it places students with mentors according to career interests.