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Growth, “undiscussables” and trust: Mentorship in action

June 13, 2023

Lillian Crowder with her mentor Bev Patwell

Mentorship: anyone who has been part of a good mentor/mentee pairing knows that the best experiences go far beyond direct career advice. It’s about mutual respect and trust. It’s about learning from what the other person has to offer, and meeting them where they’re at. It’s about discussing the “undiscussables” and growing the person with the career.

Through the mentorship program, within Gustavson’s Connections Hub, BCom student Lillian Crowder was matched last fall with mentor Bev Patwell. Patwell is an experienced consultant in organization development and change who is based in Victoria, BC.

The objective of the mentorship program is to pair Gustavson students with a local business leader who offers guidance and advice as students navigate the complexities of their degrees and career choices. It was here that Crowder was matched with Beverley Patwell, As a seasoned mentor, Patwell has been involved with the Gustavson mentorship program since 2017, making this her seventh student match.

The student-mentor relationship blossoms

Sitting down for a conversation with the two, it was clear that a sentiment of trust, strength and friendship had blossomed over the past eight months since their initial pairing.

“It’s an interesting relationship,” says Crowder with a laugh. “It’s not a therapist, it’s not a parent, it’s not a fellow student…In those relationships, you often don’t get the chance to reflect or work on yourself in a professional manner, not like you do with a mentor.”

It became clear within the first few questions that the topic of managing work and life was an undertone to their conversations throughout the term. “Having a safe space to explore those issues and challenge yourself on your mindset, values and behavior is good,” says Patwell. “It’s good practice and it’s only the start for the rest of your career.

“We’ve talked about current events, hot topics, undiscussables – things you can’t really talk about in the workplace – and we had a high level of trust in doing so,” says Patwell. This went beyond what one might think of as the standard mentorship discussions about post-graduation or long-term career goals, but the pair credits their open dialogue to their mutual interest and shared effort in nurturing the partnership.

When asked how they were able to achieve this, Crowder stressed the importance that the relationship really does go two ways. “I hear this from talking to other mentees,” says Crowder, “I think it’s a common misconception that your mentor will find you a job, or solve X, Y and Z issues for you. While they can be a resource to make connections, they’re not someone who will hand things over on a plate. You still have to put the energy in.”

From Patwell’s perspective, her current mentee has lived these values. “I have to say that although Lillian said our relationship developed organically, she always showed up with a topic to explore and never wasted my time.”

It was in that preparation that the two built a strong foundation for their relationship which allowed them to explore other avenues of conversation. “I’ve received so much advice and guidance from Bev over the last couple of months,” shares Crowder.  “Like anything from sending a text to someone in a professional world, to putting applications in, or suggestions on how to become a student leader in a school club.”

“Bev has always been a cheerleader for me and never shoots down anything that I’m thinking about,” says Crowder. “It has been really amazing to have someone believe in me…it definitely helps me to believe in myself.”

In their conversations, Crowder discovered the value of learning from someone’s lived experience, highlighting the unique opportunity that can be gleaned from a mentorship relationship. It is one that encourages not only the mentee, but also the mentor, to question and reflect. “I learned from you, and we learned together,” says Patwell with a chuckle.

“It has been so impactful to have been paired with a woman who has gone through the thick of it, and who is trusting enough to allow me to learn from those experiences,” says Crowder.

“It created that space for me too,” says Patwell. “I appreciated also having some courageous conversations where I explored my questions around this generation.” 

The future of their relationship

Where will things go from here?

“Just because our formal relationship via the Gustavson mentorship program will wrap up, it doesn’t mean we’re going to stop keeping in touch,” says Crowder. Patwell seconded this saying, “I’ve had great mentors in my life, and I believe that if there’s a match and there’s magic, then they’re a fit for a lifetime, not just a checkbox for a course.”

The pair left with encouraging words for their peers and colleagues.

“It’s a very worthwhile experience for the mentee and the mentor,” says Patwell. “I would encourage my colleagues to take the time to do this with an open heart, not the expert model, and to think of the experience as leadership development for both of you.”

—Sydney Hucal