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EITS Mentorship Program expands to more UGA colleges, departments

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A four-year-old mentorship program for IT professionals at the University of Georgia is getting attention from colleagues at other institutions in the University System of Georgia.

UGA’s Enterprise Information Technology Services (EITS) initially launched its mentorship program in 2008 as an innovative solution to enhance employees’ professional and personal growth amid budget cuts.

Since then, more than 165 IT professionals have participated in the program that now spans to other colleges, departments and units at UGA — not just those employees at EITS.

“The program is good because it’s the right tool for the right job,” said Greg Topp, director of the EITS Application Solutions Group and leadership sponsor of the mentorship program.

At UGA, there are an estimated 600 IT professionals by job classification on campus. Of that, about 200 are employed by EITS — which is the University’s central IT department.

Recent mentorship program participants have included IT professionals at UGA from the College of Education, the College of Agriculture, the Office of the Vice President for Research, the University Budget Office, Department of Geology and Campus Life, among others.

The EITS mentorship program pairs a volunteer mentor with a protégé. Participants may choose one of three “paths” — leadership, technical or interpersonal.

For each mentorship cycle, EITS asks IT professionals to submit an application outlining their goals and preferences as either a mentor or a protégé. A council of EITS employees then reviews the applications and appropriately matches mentors with a protégé.

A mentorship cycle now spans five months — when mentors and protégés are asked to commit one hour a week to discuss topics or issues of their choosing. EITS also spearheads a welcoming meeting for participants, along with a mid-point meeting to check on progress and a final gathering at the end of the program.

Stacy Boyles, co-chairperson of the mentorship council, said the program isn’t just a one-way street of learning.

“A lot of times, mentors will say, ‘I learned just as much from the protégés, as they learned from me,’” said Boyles, who is an IT manager for EITS’ identity management.

But what makes the EITS mentorship program successful is its “less is more” approach to fostering relationships between mentors and protégés. There is little paperwork and few rules to follow, as the self-guided participants are asked to determine their own scope, pace and goals.

“Most of the time, if you leave them alone, the relationship is stronger,” said Stephanie Ayers, co-chairperson of the mentorship program.

What has happened is that EITS officials have realized that the mentorship program has helped to improve cooperation among other university departments, colleges and units on campus. It has also improved employee production, interaction and collaboration.

“It’s done better than we anticipated,” Topp said.

The EITS mentorship program recently garnered attention from other USG institutions who are not only interested in starting similar programs for their IT professionals, but possibly across institutions in the state. EITS employees shared their insights with IT officials from Columbus State University, University of West Georgia, Georgia College, Georgia Southern University and the University System of Georgia.

EITS initially started its mentorship as a solution to reduced funding for training at the start of the economic downturn. The department hasn’t allocated funds for the mentorship program, although EITS leaders allow employees to budget time for participation.

“One of the beauties of this program is that it’s basically free,” Ayers said.

The mentorship program has also been successful because it doesn’t just pair senior-level administrators with younger protégés; instead, it matches employees with various backgrounds and experiences who may not have otherwise interacted with one another.

Topp explained that the mentorship program is based upon three outcomes: Building trust, sharing knowledge and reaching IT professionals who don’t have regular access to a community of learning.

EITS is accepting applications for its mentorship program until Thursday, Jan. 10. IT professionals who want to apply may complete an application.