Mentor Map creates real-time connections in virtual world

Jan 8, 2021Courtney Morris

Stressed, frustrated, overwhelmed, Zahra Cope wanted to quit.

The first in her family to pursue college, Cope was juggling full-time classes along with her responsibilities as a wife and mother of two. How could she ever complete her social and behavioral science program at San Jacinto College?

Zahra Cope (far left) with other mentees in the 1st Gen mentoring program. (Photo courtesy of Zahra Cope)

"I remember telling my mentor, 'I'm done. I'm dropping everything. I'm not equipped to do this,'" she said.

Cope's mentor listened until she finished venting. Then she offered suggestions.

"Her letting me completely let my frustration out made me realize I didn't need to quit school," Cope said. "I needed to take a deep breath."

Fast forward to today: Cope is pursuing a bachelor's degree in social work. She credits her 1st Gen mentors with keeping her on track at San Jac.

"You can do it alone — absolutely," she said. "But you can do it with mentors way faster and way better."

In fall 2020, the College began piloting Mentor Map to increase mentoring connections. This app-driven platform not only improves mentor/mentee matching but also creates a virtual environment where students like Cope get the support they need to reach their goals.

Mentoring ... it's not what you think

In 2019-2020, Rhonda Tompkins, manager of leadership development, led a project team researching ways to expand mentoring College-wide. This team included representatives from human resources, information technology, and current mentoring programs.

In earlier research, Tompkins had learned a thing or two about modern mentoring: First, it goes beyond the formula of a more experienced person guiding someone less experienced. Second, it includes many options — from peer to peer and groups to tech-savvy people guiding those less tech-savvy. It even includes flash mentoring, a brief relationship focused on one topic.

The project team also discovered Chronus mentoring software, which could create connections, improve administrative aspects, and provide needed data.

"Why couldn't we take these new definitions of what mentoring is, utilize a software app, and connect the entire College community?" Tompkins said. "It really removes boundaries."

Mentor Map, San Jac's branding for the software, was the result.

Platform takes 1st Gen and DSP to another level

While nontraditional mentoring is still down the road, Mentor Map enhances the College's established mentoring programs: 1st Gen and Diverse Student Populations.

1st Gen connects students who are the first in their family to attend college with mentors who had a similar background. Diverse Student Populations supports students by advancing equity and understanding. Although diverse is in its title, it is open to any student.

"At first glance, it may seem like we cater to a specific audience, yet diversity encompasses many different students," said Joshua Shankle, Diverse Student Populations team member and retention specialist for the Central Campus iConnect Center.

Diverse Student Populations provides a safe environment for all students, no matter what their background, religious or political beliefs, sexual orientation, etc. Shankle says Mentor Map's virtual environment will increase connection opportunities.

"During these times when so much is being performed online, having a mentoring program that can be completely performed online as well is essential," he said. "This allows our students to stay connected to us and receive guidance during possibly difficult times."

You've got a friend in me

After expressing interest and receiving an invitation to join, students and employees complete a profile with personal details and mentoring goals. Through Mentor Map software algorithms, students receive mentor recommendations and can choose the best match.

Mentor and mentee then download a phone app to plan together how long and deep they want the relationship to go. They can also check each other's schedule, set up in-person or virtual meetings, and chat. While the system keeps them on track with push notifications, the student must drive the relationship.

"Mentoring is not about performance. It's mentee-driven," Tompkins said. "The mentees are the ones to seek out the individuals who can get them where they want to go — from a career perspective and professional development perspective."

Through mentoring, students find someone to support them through adversity, challenge them, and celebrate their strengths. Mentors get to share wisdom from experience, ask the right questions, and be a friend.

Connection still matters in virtual world

What the pilot team didn't expect as it was building Mentor Map was COVID-19 spreading worldwide. The timing was perfect for a virtual mentoring environment.

"With the pandemic, little did we know when we were looking at this that we would be virtual in 2020," Tompkins said.

When San Jac moved to altered operations in March 2020, faculty and other employees lost face-to-face connection with students. Even as the College continues to offer some classes and services virtually, Mentor Map creates a place for one-on-one relationships to support students however they need.

"It really helps in our relationally-challenged world right now," Tompkins said. "Sometimes an app or piece of software can help bridge those worlds."

"I had to join"

Eventually, Mentor Map may take on alumni and other community members as mentors as student interest builds. For now, it allows students and employees to create relationships with a purpose.

North Campus coordinator for Intentional Connections Gwendolyn Berry joined Mentor Map in the fall. Her purpose is being the mentor for someone else that she needed as a college freshman.

Already working with first-generation college students, Berry wants to expand her reach through mentoring.

"Many of my students are feeling the strain of the pandemic and stressors from life," she said. "As I talked to my students and encouraged them not to give up, I pondered the question 'Are there other San Jac students who feel the same way?' Knowing how positive connections can enrich anyone, I had to join."

Are you a match for mentoring?

Are you a current San Jacstudent or an employee interested in becoming a mentor? Request an invitation to join a mentoring program by visiting one of these pages:

To learn more about Mentor Map, contact (Diverse Student Populations), (1st Gen), or