Sunderland student ‘reverse-mentors’ department head

Final year business student and department head’s ‘professional friendship’ is part of a scheme to empower students in the workforce and give leaders insight into student perspectives

A student at the University of Sunderland has taken part in a ‘reverse-mentoring’ scheme with the head of her department.

Reverse-mentoring is a workplace scheme in which a junior employee is paired with a senior leader in a “professional friendship” to exchange skills, knowledge and understanding.

The University of Sunderland’s reverse-mentoring scheme is designed to prepare students for the business world.

“Empowering students to take ownership of learning through reverse mentoring will certainly help them gain confidence and prepare for real-world expectations,” said 27-year-old student Paula Purgal, who is in her final year of a business and applied management degree, and volunteered to reverse-mentor the University of Sunderland’s head of school of business and management, Professor Monika Foster.

“Reverse mentoring can be crucial for many students as it gives them the ability to be “in charge” which is not typical at this early stage in their careers.

“It is a remarkable process but also a big responsibility and a chance to experience the theory in practice. It also gives students the opportunity to create contacts in the business world.

“The best part is the ability to create a network and remove the hierarchy that sometimes gets in the way of the communication tunnel.

“It also contributed to the deeper development of my leadership skills and improved my initiative. In addition, I could see what projects Professor Monika was working on, which gave me a practice in business and allowed me to expand my knowledge and apply the theory that I learned during my studies. Additionally, it developed my creative thinking as I always tried to give Professor Monika a fresh look and a new perspective.”

Professor Monika Foster, head of school of business and management at the University of Sunderland

Professor Monika Foster, who also offers open door sessions for all students in the business school, conceived the scheme and put out a call for volunteers as part of her work with students to understand better their needs.

“As a qualified coach and mentor, I was excited and curious to reverse the roles and enjoy being guided by a student so when Paula said she’d reverse mentor me, I was very pleased she agreed,” Professor Foster said.

“Getting to know Paula and her perspectives on how she’d approach issues and projects I am working on has been a completely unexpected learning curve. Less over-thinking and a very current, well informed approach by the literature that she uses for her course was illuminating.

“Paula made me think through the new perspectives and her refreshing approach made me feel 20 years younger!

“At first, we concentrated on digital, how students engage with learning digitally, how they access social groups. Paula has opened my eyes to the’ hidden’ side of student interactions, mainly on closed Facebook groups, some set by colleagues in the School, which was great to hear.”

Purgal, who is originally from Poland but now lives in Sunderland, added: “The amazing results that come from this relationship can be seen.

“It has been an opportunity for Professor Monika to get to know the real perspective and opinion of a business student on matters relating to her work at the University.

“In addition, I’ve helped her discover the digital aspect that is an inseparable part of present and future education. I am also giving her tips on social media and what could be improved to better interact with and between students.”

The reverse-mentoring lasted roughly six months, but, says Professor Foster, “we are in touch and Paula and I are working on a keynote I am going to give – so the partnership is continuing!

“Based on this experience, I will be looking to do the same in ’21/22.”


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