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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mentorship and Entrepreneurship


Since I am teaching my "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" course again this semester, I am thinking much more about business and its intersections with Spanish, culture and community-based learning.

So I was really happy to get the latest issue of Pink in my mailbox this week. It always has articles that give me teaching ideas, confirm my intuition about something I'd already been thinking about, and something Darcy and me to chat about (we both subscribe).

In this issue I noticed a message that emerged more than once: the importance of mentors.

In the article, "18 Women Gurus," the author asks Rene Mauborgne, "Do you think that women should seek out gurus?" She answers this:

The question I would encourage all women to ask is: Who is the person they want to be--professionally, personally, in their relationships with their family and friends, so that they are proud of the person they are and grow into being? Then think about people who possess these qualities and set out to be inspired by them, and to draw courage and practical guidance from their actions and their lives.

There's also a great profile of Suzy Welch in the magazine, and in the website supplement she emphasizes the importance of having an honest--sometimes uncomfortably honest--mentor.

I asked myself, who are my mentors?

Larry Schook. I met Larry when I became a Faculty Fellow with the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership. I have learned so much from observing him: how to write grant proposals, how to assemble teams, how to juggle many balls, and how to be a loyal friend who at the same time also upholds everyone around him to very high standards. For me, he is a model of how to do business--whether it's the business of running a very important research agenda, a team (he is a theme leader at the Institute for Genomic Biology), a start-up program (he heads the new U of I biotech program) or an actual business. I find it interesting that my model for success at the university comes from outside the humanities and outside my own field.

Darcy Lear. I think it would be accurate to say that Darcy and I are co-mentors. We share a lot: we're both at great universities in big Spanish departments, we're mothers to young kids, we share a research agenda and publishing plan, we're ambitious and entrepreneurial. We're also different: she likes to move around, I stay put; she's no-nonsense, sometimes I put up with too much nonsense; I tend to be a people-pleaser, let's just say Darcy's not. But we keep each other honest, on-track, motivated and encouraged. Our work doesn't fit in the traditional Spanish-department box, so we have to motivate each other. Because we don't fit in that box, we're also redefining what success looks like for us. And achieving that success together is a big part of our actual definition of success. So starting in February, Darcy will join me on this blog. And one of the new topics you'll see covered here is the very topic of collaboration and cooperation.

I'll announce the specific changes to this blog in early February.

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