Tips for Mentoring a Student Intern Who Has a Disability
Although the NextGen Leaders Program is a career development program for students and recent graduates with disabilities, we found the below excerpt from Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) provides some excellent tips for mentoring a student who has a disability, whether or not this is a student intern.
Ask Your Mentee What Support He or She Wants from You
The beginning of any mentoring relationship involves identifying and agreeing upon the goals and outcomes to be attained. While you may have your own ideas about what sort of help or support you can provide, ask your mentee what his or her expectations are. This may include professional guid¬ance or assistance navigating the workplace or profession; help meeting and networking with other professionals in the office or field; and input on how to address challenging situations at work. Your mentee may also simply want someone to listen and provide encouragement as she or he experiences successes and challenges. Ask your mentee about how you can be helpful each time you communicate and proceed accordingly.
Create a Mentoring Plan
Once you know what your mentee wants, develop a plan for how you will provide the desired sup-port and assistance through the mentoring relationship. A mentoring plan is a written document that clearly defines the mentoring goals and objectives agreed upon by the mentor and mentee. The plan also outlines action steps the mentor and mentee agree to take to achieve the goals and objectives. Creating a plan clarifies expectations and responsibilities for both individuals and provides a tool for tracking the progress and outcomes of the relationship.
Agree Upon How and When to Communicate
Mentoring is most effective when mentors and mentees meet or talk regularly and maintain consistent contact. Ask your mentee when and how he or she prefers to communicate or meet. Also, let your mentee know when you are most available and the best way to contact you. You may decide together that meeting in person each week at a set time and location works best or you may agree to have a flexible meeting schedule. In addition to regular meetings or conversations, let your men¬tee know how they can reach you in the case that an urgent situation arises such as an unexpected problem in the workplace. Make certain you are providing any communication or meeting related accommodation requests for your mentee.
Treat Your Mentee the Same As You Would Any Student Intern
A student intern who has a disability is just like other qualified interns who do not have disabilities. Your mentee has many skills and talents to contribute to the workplace. He or she has a desire to learn and grow through the internship experience and wants to succeed and advance in the world of work. Treat your mentee just like anyone else you may mentor. Have high expectations for what mentees have to offer and an appreciation for individuality.
Don’t Make Assumptions – Simply Ask
Don’t assume anything about your mentee or make judgments based on what you see or what you hear from others. Your mentee knows himself or herself better than anyone else, so start getting to know your mentee by asking questions you might ask any student intern such as: “What are your career goals? What are your strengths? What skills or knowledge do you want to learn or improve? What do you hope to gain through the internship?” Mentees may or may not choose to directly talk about their disability and this should be respected. However, if disclosure may be important to the success of the internship, you could approach this subject by asking for permission to discuss the disability and explain the advantages of doing so. If your mentee prefers not to engage in such discussion, do not insist. If he or she agrees, keep your questions focused on what’s relevant to the internship experience such as “Is there anything we can do to make the internship experience better for you?”
Establish Trust through Active Listening
The success of any mentoring relationship hinges on establishing trust. Being a good listener is an important strategy for building trust with your mentee. The more you ask questions and actively listen to what your mentee shares about him or herself and the internship experience, the more you will learn about who your mentee is and what support he or she wants from you as a mentor. While you bring a lot of professional and personal experience to the relationship, avoid the temptation of focusing on yourself. Share your experience and knowledge as it relates to the mentee’s interests and goals and respond to specific questions posed about career and professional achievements. Make mutual sharing and learning an objective of every interaction while keeping the focus on what the mentee wants to discuss. Be careful not to tell your mentee what to do but rather help them think through options so they may come to an appropriate conclusion.
Introduce Your Mentee to Other Professionals with and without Disabilities
As someone who already has a network of professional connections, you can play an important role in your mentee’s growth by introducing him or her to other professionals. If your mentee has a disability, they could benefit from meeting professionals both with and without disabilities. Meeting a diverse network of individuals will help your mentee start to develop contacts and gain multiple perspectives on the world of work and profession of interest.
The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) is a free resource that helps employers tap the benefits of disability diversity. EARN is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) under a cooperative agreement with Cornell University. www.AskEarn.org; [email protected]