UCAR Communications


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Learning from each other:
Peer mentoring programs get off the ground

Administrators and computer professionals want to provide on-the-job assistance to their colleagues.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could ask an experienced UCAR/NCAR staffer for help with a confusing computer program? Or get together occasionally with your peers from other divisions to talk about common challenges and solutions?

These are some of the goals of UCAR’s peer mentoring initiative, which has been picking up momentum over the last few months. Two groups—administrators and computer professionals—are working on pilot programs. In addition, Human Resources and F&A’s IT group are developing an interactive database that would list the expertise of staffers willing to serve as learning partners to help their colleagues.

NCAR director Tim Killeen, who is working on a separate mentoring initiative for scientists, says it’s important for all staffers to have the opportunity to learn from their peers. “I feel that we ought to be a learning organization, and mentoring is an aspect of that,” he explains. “Everybody on all levels should feel enabled by the organization to expand.”

The mentoring initiatives began taking form last year, when HR held a number of employee focus groups to discuss professional development opportunities at UCAR. Staffers particularly expressed interest in developing peer mentoring systems that would allow them to learn from other people in the same job families. Since the computer and administrative staffers expressed the largest interest in peer mentoring, the President’s Council chose them as pilot groups and asked them to set up mentoring models.

The administrators set up a steering group, now headed by Barb Petruzzi (PPS). They held open meetings with mentoring experts, including ATD director Dave Carlson and SOARS director Tom Windham. Instead of using the term “mentoring,” they decided to make their learning process a bit less formal by naming themselves “Coaching Peers”—which translates into an easy-to- remember acronym, CoPs. “What we want to do is keep this alive and not let it go by the wayside,” Barb explains. “We’re getting the word out. The networking in our group is pretty incredible.”

Left to right: Cheryl Cristanelli, Barb Petruzzi, and Kristian Woyna.

The administrators have compiled a list of people willing to spend time coaching their peers about budgeting, personnel management, and other administrative issues. They’re also planning a series of talks by administrative experts, from both within and outside the organization. Although no one has yet signed up for actual coaching, the administrators already are benefiting just by spending time together and informally helping each other with such issues as public speaking.

For their part, the computer professionals formed the Professional Association of Computing and Technology (PACT) and are proceeding with a two-pronged strategy. One aim is to establish a Web site that will describe the institution’s computer infrastructure, as well as staffers and initiatives. “Employees can go to one place to get an overview of computing directions for the entire organization,” explains Kristian Woyna (F&A), who chairs the steering committee. “Through our Web site, they can find resources, identify an individual who can help them with a specific question, or find a mentor.”

The other aim is to bring together computer professionals from each division, either for formal presentations or for informal networking. “We’re a very busy profession, and it will help us to actually visit with each other, find out what others are up to, and make the spontaneous connections that can lead to information exchanges,” Kristian says. Both computing professionals and people who have an interest in or work with computing are encouraged to become involved.

Both the pilot groups are collaborating with HR and IT on the development of a skills-and-learning-exchange database listing the specialities of staffers throughout the institution who are willing to lend a hand to their peers. “Let’s say I know Excel spreadsheets up and down,” says Cheryl Cristanelli, who is overseeing the mentoring initiative for HR. “I’d add my name to the Skills/Learning Exchange as a learning partner for Excel for developing formulas. I’m now available as a resource for anyone seeking coaching or assistance in this area. If someone is seeking assistance in this area, they could connect with me and we can work together. The database can additionally serve as a tool for supervisors seeking coaching for a staff member. Instead of sitting there and trying to read through a whole manual, just go to the database and find out if someone has skills in that area.”

Cheryl expects that the database will be available within a few months. She’s also looking forward to working with people in additional job families who may want to create their own peer mentoring groups.

In addition to helping individuals with their tasks, the initiative can help the overall institution. Terry Murray of the NCAR Library, who serves on the administrators steering group, points out that the mentoring “will bring a lot of the divisions closer because the administrators will be working together. We’ll have more interdivisional collaboration.”

To get involved with CoPs, contact Barb (ext. 2402, petruzzi@ucar.edu); for PACT, contact Kristian (ext. 2146, kwoyna@ucar.edu).

•David Hosansky

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