Spring Arbor University’s online Master’s in Strategic Communication and Leadership is unique in a number of regards, not least of which is the central role of mentorship in the program. One of the aims of the program is to teach students how to turn the art of communication itself into a vocation: finding common ground through conflict resolution, mastering persuasive and rhetorical techniques and helping others break through their own communication challenges. It follows that such lessons can often best be explored through intimate, one-on-one engagements with experts.
The Teaching Mentorship Program
Each student accepted into the MSCL stream is optionally enrolled into a personal mentorship program with a member of SAU’s faculty. The faculty is comprised of top influencers, including authors, academics, diplomats and business leaders. These mentors have made significant contributions to the literature of strategic communication and have experienced real world success.
Even though the program is completed online, SAU mentors form real connections with their mentees. Given that online students do not typically receive the same frequency of face-to-face interaction with instructors and peers as those on traditional campuses, the anchor formed by mentorship is even more important — particularly for students of communication. Mentors can be accessed through the school’s online portal, and there are opportunities for phone chats, email exchanges and, in some cases, face-to-face meetings. They offer professional development tips, networking opportunities and personalized support throughout the student’s time in the program.
What Students and Mentors are Saying About the Program
Mentor and program co-founder Dr. Mark Fackler likes to use a testing tool called the StrengthsFinder to guide students through a self-reflexive process that reveals their aptitudes and interests. Every student’s journey through the program is distinct; Dr. Fackler believes that one’s calling exists where one’s strengths and the world’s needs intersect. It is a holistic understanding of purpose that can help students who are unsure of their path find the place they belong.
In early 2018, we interviewed program graduate Kristine Kuhl about her experiences in the mentorship program. Kuhl called her conversations with mentor Dr. David Rawson a “game changer” in her life and career. Mentors take on a role as sounding boards for their students’ hopes and ambitions, and, via their own life experience, offer helpful perspective.
Although Kuhl had already found real success as an EMS supervisor for several Michigan counties, Dr. Rawson’s guidance helped her to see that her true passion was in the field of child advocacy. Her education in the program, as well as her prior leadership experience, positioned her to make her first steps into an area where she can foment real change.
Another unique aspect of the online Master’s in Strategic Communication and Leadership program is the Personal Communication Portfolio project each student completes as part of their degree requirements. With the assistance of teachers and their mentor, students assemble a portfolio with examples of different kinds of writing (blogs, presentations and journalistic pieces) which can be brought to job interviews. Mentors help their charges stand out by encouraging students to take risks and think outside the box with their projects.
In an overview of the portfolio project we published in August 2018, Dr. Fackler elaborated on the value of taking chances:
“If you can get an innovation started, and sell it as helpful to the agency, imagine the confidence that comes to you if you have established something new in an organization that you had no prior stake in. If you’ve developed your personal portfolio wherever you’re working with responsibility and collegiality, then in your next job interview you’ll have something to talk about.”
By assigning inspirational Christian and secular readings on leadership and purpose, SAU’s mentors offer a framework for their students to push themselves further than they might’ve otherwise thought they could go.
This, ultimately, is the strongest benefit of a mentorship program — having someone with wisdom and experience in your corner at all times, who believes in what you can achieve at your best and supports your efforts to get there.