Directed Field Study – Week 5

Time spent this week: 3 hours, bringing my total to date to 24 hours.

Activities this week: I spent some time reflecting on potential sponsors within my organization (and identified two), and working on Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor, which I continue to find interesting and helpful. My mentor is on vacation in France, so we did not have a meeting this week. I also had an extremely busy and stressful week at work (with four 10-14 hour days) so generally did not have time available for field study work.

Skill development this week: I spent some time reflecting on my political map, including people who are above me in standing at the university but with whom I have a positive, if tangential relationship. One of the things that I specifically considered was their potential interest/willingness to sponsor women into leadership positions. Another was their focus in the university in terms of current job and history. I identified Marilou Johnson, Vice Provost for Academic Development, and Art Dean, Executive Director for Access and Inclusion (which is a President’s initiative and office). Marilou’s portfolio is one that I could see myself overseeing in a future job iteration, and she has also created and supported programs aimed at supporting women in leadership at the university. I’ve also seen her do some unconscious sponsoring for other women on campus, so have hope she’d be a sponsor for me as well. I have already started cultivating Art as a partner (or, rather, his office as a partner) for my new and developing problem of practice, which will give me an opportunity to show him my skills in a practical way. Clearly access and inclusion is important to me, given my new PoP.

Now that I have identified these two individuals, however, I find myself a little paralyzed about how to proceed. I’m not convinced of the wisdom of essentially cold-calling them and asking them to sponsor me. The Hewlett book is giving me some good practical advice about how to recruit a sponsor (it’s hard, she admits), which includes asking questions like, “How can I help you with a project you’re working on?” Another suggestion is offering less specific help, such as “The next time you’re forming an interdisciplinary group to work on X, keep me in mind.” I’ll have to consider how to frame these asks. In one of the possibly unconscious acts of sponsorship that I saw Marilou do this week, a junior leader simply asked her for advice in building a larger network on campus, which resulted in Marilou inviting her to the Associate Dean’s biweekly meetings (which she runs, and I attend).

In my continued reading of the Hewlett book, I’ve also come across the recommendation that I need not only more than one sponsor at JMU – both to insulate me against something happening to one and to provide me with a broader network and pool of advice – but I should also be cultivating sponsors outside the university. I had hoped to work this summer with the mayor of Harrisonburg, but we never managed to properly connect. Unfortunately my job change four years ago took me out of a professional network that I had cultivated over 10 years (and in which I had several external sponsors), and I have yet to develop a proper professional home in my new position (in part because it’s changed twice in the last four years – so even if I’d found something in 2013 it wouldn’t be valid now). I wonder if my colleague Lisa Varga, the executive director of the Virginia Library Association, would be a good option – she certainly knows a lot of people in the state. However, if I’m hoping to build a network outside of the library profession, I’ll need to make broader connections outside the profession. I’m hoping to attend and get active in AAC&U or similar groups – perhaps the AAUW would be a good option… I’ve struggled with this since coming to JMU and feel stuck.

Also in this week’s reading in Forget a Mentor…, Hewlett emphasized the role of the protege-sponsor relationship as not just benefiting the protege, but as a means of promoting the sponsor. This is very different from a mentoring relationship, which tends to support the mentee but not particularly the mentor (other than incidentally). I will need to keep this in mind when reaching out to Marilou, Art, Lisa, and others – and I think those questions that I wrote out above are examples of being-sponsored behavior (“how can I help you”) as opposed to being-mentored behavior (“how can you help me”). It’s an interesting different way to think about this sort of workplace relationship. I’ve been trying to practice servant leadership, which sort of takes the same approach to supervision, so at least I have some experience to draw on.

Activities for next week: Because of my workload this week I was not able to download and read the two reports that I’d given to Jennifer last week. I’d like to do that, and to get further in Forget a Mentor… If I have time, I’ll also work to update my Google Sheet of notes from the various articles that I read. I fear the Google Sheet won’t work for my notes from Forget a Mentor…, so I’ll have to come up with a way to organize those so they’re easy for Jennifer to parse.

This is a bad time to approach Marilou and Art, even if it is to offer my help, because not only is the fiscal year ending so we’re all desperately writing our annual reports, but our beloved Provost is retiring at the end of this week and a new one is stepping into the job on July 5th. Marilou is directly impacted by this (since Provost Coltman will be her boss), and I imagine Art will be tangentially involved. My boss (the LET Dean) is also distracted by both reporting and the new Provost. However, the registration for the fall VLA conference just launched, which means that Lisa may actually have some time to talk. With her I feel much more comfortable asking directly for her advocacy – but am still weirdly awkward about it. I’ll try to work up the courage (and time) for an email this week. I think I’ll also join the AAUW!


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