Mentoring Fosters Growth and Community in Ulster BOCES Electrical Construction & Maintenance

Mentoring Fosters Growth and Community in Ulster BOCES Electrical Construction & Maintenance

Michelle Rosu, an instructor with the Ulster BOCES Electrical Construction & Maintenance program, had her hands full at the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year. At the time, she was the lone teacher in a mixed class of first- and second-year young professionals. She quickly decided that she needed to find a way to make sure that all the young professionals in the shop felt supported and received the guidance and attention they required.

Her solution was to assign one Grade 12 “mentor” to every two or three Grade 11 young professionals enrolled in the program. In addition to offering guidance to their mentees, the mentors reinforced how to perform some of the simpler tasks. This arrangement has not only helped the mentees learn some essential skills, but has also helped the second years boost their leadership and has built bonds between the two groups of young professionals.

The task of getting the first-year students up to speed, even in doing what they would now consider a simple task—like a wire splice or terminal route—was daunting in the beginning,” recalled Rosu. She explained that it takes the young professionals some time to build up the muscle memory required to quickly and easily perform some common procedures.

Once Rosu assigned the newer young professionals a senior mentor, they had someone they could go to with questions or for support if she was busy working with others. “The first few weeks, the mentors just floated around the shop,” explained Rosu. “They would check on the first-year students’ work, sometimes giving helpful hints and critiques.” It was through these interactions that the young professionals began to build lasting relationships with their older mentors.

Nicholas Coutant, a senior from Kingston High School (KHS), describes his experience being a mentor. “I took my knowledge of what I learned last year and applied it to teach them,” he said. In his opinion, the first-year young professionals absorb the tutorials better when it is a peer demonstrating. “When you are hands-on, standing right there, you can show them how to do it easier,” he suggested.

According to Rosu, the Grade 11 young professionals no longer rely on their mentors as often as they did earlier in the year, now that they have developed a better working knowledge of what they are supposed to do. However, they will still check in with their mentors. ”They know who to go to, and they look towards the seniors who have really good technical skills or have completed this type of project before,” she said.

The mentoring system is helpful, Rosu noted, even though there is now an additional instructor in the classroom, because sometimes both teachers are assisting one of the other young professionals with a highly technical project. Even if their assigned mentor isn’t present or available, the first-year young professionals know others they can go to with questions or for advice.

The mentoring arrangement has also benefited the Grade 12 young professionals. “It feels nice to show the first years how to do something and to help them succeed,” said Eric DeWitt, who is also a senior at KHS. Eric already has experience working “out in the field,” and is used to having someone to guide him and to teach him techniques. “It feels good to be the one showing others how to use the different hand tools or to teach them how to make something look better in the box or demonstrate an easier way to do something,” he said.

The relationships carry over into the classroom, too, with the young professionals asking each other for help and comparing answers. “I like how it has created a really nice sense of community in the classroom,” explained Rosu. “In the afternoon class, there are several English as a Second Language (ESL) young professionals, and one young professional has taken on helping to translate and clarify what I say or explain written assignments for others.” Rosu really appreciates the support the students are providing each other, especially because they are reinforcing their own knowledge as they reteach it to other students.

For more information about Ulster BOCES Career and Technical programs, visit www.ulsterboces.org/cte.

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