Mentoring summit a chance to share what does and doesn’t work


Being a mentor to a student is a lot about listening, and Julia Spears hopes people coming to the Mentoring and Advising Summit on March 7 are ready to listen to their peers’ successes and failures in the area of mentoring.


The provost’s keynote speech and the panel discussion at 1 p.m. will be live-streamed for those who can’t make it to the Mentoring and Advising Summit. After the event, the two recorded sessions will be available here.

“This is a conversation that is evolving and what we really want to do is listen to the campus community around stories — what’s working and what’s not working, and what we can do collectively to ensure that we’re putting our best foot forward,” said Spears, associate vice provost for academic innovation.

This is the second year for the summit, which has been expanded from a half-day to a full-day. So far, Spears said, about 140 faculty and staff members have signed up to attend, but there’s room for up to 300. While the official deadline to register is Feb. 22, Spears said that is a soft deadline and they will continue to take people, even if they’re walk-ins on the day of the event.

Julia SpearsIn addition to sharing stories with peers at the summit, Spears said there will be a video booth to collect stories from attendees, following different prompts.

The theme for this year’s summit is “Diversity and Excellence in Mentoring and Advising.”

“While the sessions run the gamut, there are a number that are specifically focused on how do we make sure that we are creating this space for diversity and inclusion on campus,” Spears said. “And when you’re mentoring and advising students who are different from you, what does that look like? What are some best practices and models that we can employ to help make sure the students feel that we’re cultivating that sense of belonging?”

Provost Ann Cudd will kick off the day at 9 a.m. with a keynote speech “about her vision for what mentoring and advising looks like here,” Spears said. The speech, lunch and a 1 p.m. panel discussion will take place in the Alumni Hall ballroom. The concurrent discussion sessions in the morning and afternoon will be either in Alumni Hall or the University Club.

The more than 15 concurrent sessions will include topics like:

  • “How Intercollegiate Athletics Coaches Mentor the Development of Large Numbers of Student-Athletes,” by Marc Christian, assistant swim coach.

  • “Up Close and Personal Advising at Pitt–Johnstown: Restructuring Our Approach to Engage Faculty and Staff in Campus-wide Retention Efforts” by Janet Grady, UPJ vice president of academic affairs and Academic Success Center Director Katherine Kinsinger

  • “Mentors as Sources of Cultural Responsiveness for Underrepresented Students” by Mary Napoli, director of academic success at the Dietrich School for Arts & Sciences

  • “Guiding and Tracking Student Success in Global Engagement through MyPittGlobal” by  John Stoner, executive director for academic affairs for the University Center for International Studies

Spears said the summit also will be an opportunity to update people on current Pitt projects related to mentoring, such as Pitt Pathways, Pitt Commons and the online orientation plan for new students starting with the incoming class in fall 2019.

Stephen R. Wisniewski, vice provost for data and information, will give an update on Pitt Pathways, which is set to roll out to more schools this fall. Pathways is a dashboard system using PeopleSoft that allows advisors and faculty to have quick access to critical information about students to increase retention and graduation rates.

Pitt Commons, an online program that connects students and mentors, is still building up its database. Spears said there are currently 1,500 people, mostly mentors, signed onto the platform, but they’re waiting for more input from the Pitt Alumni Association before promoting the program to students.

Spears said one of the goals of the summit is to identify common challenges “so that we can begin to really think about systematic ways that we are helping to address that and to provide additional professional development.”

“We want to make sure that folks understand that we are really interested in providing a safe space, a collaborative space,” she said. “Many people are struggling with some of these (same) issues and challenges, and what are some of those challenges that we would want to support at an institutional level?”

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 412-648-4294.