Mentorship

By and large, Big Ideas finalists cite the mentorship as the most important and impactful resource provided to applicants during the Contest. Applicants report on surveys (see Evaluation) that working with a mentor greatly improved their final submission, helped them more deeply understand their area of intended impact, and improved their experience in the Big Ideas Contest.

Starting in mid-January, Big Ideas finalists are matched with mentors—Bay Area professionals from a diverse set of fields including business management/administration, engineering, agriculture, and health services, among others. Together, finalists and mentors work approximately two hours per week for eight weeks to refine the teams’ project ideas, develop partnerships, and craft their fifteen-page Full Proposals. Students work with their mentors via in-person meetings, phone calls, or emails to develop impactful projects and viable implementation plans. The mentors are asked to serve in an advisory or consulting capacity to the project—they are not intended to participate in the actual writing of the Full Proposal.

Recruiting Mentors
Over the course of the fall semester, Big Ideas staff work to recruit as large and diverse a pool of potential mentors as possible. Mentor recruitment and matching is particularly challenging each year, largely because the specific mentorship needs of each team are diverse and do not become fully clear to the teams or Big Ideas@Berkeley staff until the end of Pre-proposal review process in December. However, Big Ideas begins recruiting potential mentors long before Pre-proposals are submitted.

Although the benefits of the mentorship process are clear to the applicant teams, the incentives for mentors to participate are more ambiguous. However, thanks to evaluation data and conversations with more than 75 mentors who have participated in the mentorship program, Big Ideas has identified the most-cited reasons for becoming involved as a mentor:

  • Mentors report that mentorship played a role in their own professional development, and they hope to repay the favor by mentoring a student team.
  • Mentors indicate a wish to contribute to projects that have potential to make a lasting social impact.
  • Mentors appreciate the opportunity to preview and get (re)inspired by the next generation’s most creative ideas.
  • Mentors benefit from the opportunities to expand their professional networks and build University connections through Big Ideas trainings, mixers, and special events.
  • Mentors also report that their mentees provide them with opportunities to learn and grow professionally.

The following strategies were used during the 2012-13 Contest to contact and recruit a large pool of potential mentors with expertise within the nine Contest category areas:

  • Category sponsors were the best individual resource for identifying prospective mentors. Sponsors were contacted and asked to provide a list of individuals who they thought would be interested in mentoring finalist teams. This strategy was most effective when the sponsors themselves reached out to their lists. However, in most cases, Big Ideas staff did the initial outreach and subsequent follow-up to these prospects.
  • When the 2012-13 Contest launched, Big Ideas staff immediately reached out to mentors who had participated in 2011-12, many of whom were eager to participate again. As Big Ideas continues to grow, retaining high quality mentors will make the mentor recruitment process much more manageable.
  • Individuals who served as Big Ideas judges were also contacted via email and phone to serve as mentors. Pre-proposal judges were allowed to nominate particular teams that they would like to support and work with based on the proposals that they had reviewed during the Pre-proposal judging round. Notably, individuals who were contacted to serve as judges but refused (often citing other commitments) were also given the opportunity to serve as mentors instead.
  • Business card fold-outs (see Tools section) were created by design staff and delivered to businesses, foundations, and accelerators who might have employees or partners interested in mentoring.
  • Big Ideas used its growing presence on Facebook and Twitter to advertise the mentorship opportunity.
  • Big Ideas staff conducted extensive online research for each of the teams who did not match well with preexisting mentors. Online research allowed staff to identify individuals who had knowledge or expertise within very specific areas, and these individuals were cold-called or emailed.
  • At regular intervals, the Blum Center and Big Ideas sends out announcements and newsletters. During the fall semester, these communications contain a short message about mentorship opportunities and a link to the Mentor Interest Form on our website.

Pairing Mentors & Teams
Once potential mentors indicate their interest, they are asked to fill out a Mentor Application Form (or asked to provide the information requested on the form during a phone call). On this form, potential mentors provided information on their mentorship experience, professional experience, areas of content expertise, and geographic areas in which they had worked or had specialized knowledge. After finalists are announced at the end of the fall semester, finalist teams are provided with their Pre-proposal judges’ feedback and asked to submit a Student Mentorship Application. This Application mirrors the Mentor Application (e.g., asks about what areas of expertise they would like their mentor to have).

Using the students’ applications and the mentors’ applications, Big Ideas finalists are matched by staff based primarily on the team’s requested mentor attributes and mentor’s stated areas of expertise and experience. Big Ideas staff has found that, although matching teams and mentors based on content expertise is certainly important, the most successful mentorship relationships occur when both mentors and teams are engaged and willing to communicate frequently and openly with each other, regardless of how good the original match between the team’s interests and mentor experience was. In other words, engagement is often a better predictor of mentorship success than a mentor’s credentials, and eagerness to participate in mentorship should be a primary consideration when selecting and matching mentors to teams.

Tips

• Focus early on mentor recruitment and follow-up constantly: From an administrative standpoint, mentorship recruitment is one of the most time-consuming and difficult aspects of running the Big Ideas competition. In order to develop a deep and qualified pool of mentors, it is important to start the recruitment process early and have a dedicated staff person responsible for outreach and follow-up.

• Don’t downplay the mentorship commitment: The most effective mentors are those who are committed and energetic. If a mentor is worried by the expectations or commitment, it is likely that mentor will not be an ideal candidate.

• Start with a Mentor Interest Form vs. Mentor Application Form: Prospective mentors are initially directed (through various outreach channels) to a webpage with a very short Mentor Interest Form. Big Ideas then personally follows up with each interested mentor to gather more detailed information on their professional experience and areas of content expertise. Though slightly more time-consuming, this strategy has helped recruit more mentors, as opposed to directing interested mentors immediately to a longer mentor application form.

• Focus on building relationships with great mentors: It is important to identify and build relationships with effective mentors to increase the likelihood that they will participate in future years. Increase their sense of connection to the Contest by acknowledging their effort (e.g., thank you notes, swag), extending personal invitations to Big Ideas events and networking opportunities, sharing Big Ideas news and newsletters, etc.

Tools

Student Mentorship Application Form
Mentor Application
Mentorship Handbook
Mentor Match Email
• 5 Reasons To Be a Mentor Postcard (Front and Back)
Recruitment Email to Mentors
Mentor Thank You Email