Changes to DC Phi Beta Kappa’s Mentorship Program Offer Opportunities for Better, More Inclusive Mentorship

Mentorship photo

By Isaac Hughes

The DC Phi Beta Kappa Association (DCΦBK) Mentorship Program has been reimagined to allow for more inclusion and flexibility for mentees and mentors. These highly-anticipated changes will allow for a mentorship program that can better attend to the dynamic needs of DCΦBK members and can serve as a useful template for other ΦBK associations looking to expand mentorship opportunities. 

Perhaps no one is more eager to discuss these changes than Rebecca DeSantis Randall. Former coordinator for the DCΦBK mentorship program and current DCΦBK president, Randall spoke of how these changes provide exciting opportunities for the mentorship program to be even more impactful for members. 

The original DCΦBK mentorship program, which began about a decade ago, was cohort-based. This meant that mentors applied through a lengthy application process, and the DCΦBK mentorship coordinators would painstakingly match mentees with mentors. While this process allowed for deep and powerful mentorship relationships, the inherently time-consuming process of the mentor application and matching process couldn’t keep up with the sheer number of mentees seeking a mentor. 

“One of the things that we wanted to do was say ‘ok, let’s see what we can do so this is something that all DCΦBK members can take advantage of, and not be something that they have to apply for,’” said Randall, adding that another goal was to remove time restrictions from the program so that mentors and mentees could participate in it at any time of year. 

In order to address these primary goals, the new-and-improved mentorship program substitutes a cohort model with a mentorship directory. This directory makes it easier for mentors to join the program and for mentees to choose mentors for their evolving and specific needs over time.

“We recognize that there are different times of the year that you might need different kinds of mentorship,” Randall explained. “There are times when you are applying for jobs and really need help with a resume, there are times when you are in the interview stage and you could really use a mock interview, or maybe there are times when you are in grad school and you are trying to figure out what your dissertation is going to be and you want to talk to somebody in the field.”

But even as these large-scale changes to the program were made, some elements of the prior mentorship program were kept, such as twice-yearly mentorship mixers. These events, described by Randall as a kind of mentorship equivalent of “speed dating,” allow for mentees and mentors to meet face to face, and hopefully kickstart the beginnings of relationships between members. 

With this reimagined program come hurdles to success. Randall said that while the process to apply to be a mentor is now easier and more-inclusive than ever, it will still be a challenge to find enough mentors to meet the demand of mentees. 

Randall also mentioned that another challenge to the success of this model of mentorship lies in simply getting the word out to all the right people.

“We are really pushing the fact that anyone can be a mentor,” Randall said as an antidote to the issue of supplying mentors. “We know a recent graduate may have a great mentorship experience with someone who is maybe only five years in the field, but they have a lot to offer because they just went through that experience of being a recent graduate.”  

When Randall speaks of the benefits of mentorship, it comes not just from what she has witnessed through her leadership of DCΦBK, but also personal experience. As a grad student, Randall began her own mentorship through the original DCΦBK mentorship program. 

She said that one of the most important things she got out of that experience was the ability to see things from a different perspective.

“Having a mentor really helped me think from a different perspective, made me think about five years from now, 10 years from now, making sure I was going to get the most out of my experience as a graduate student and [what] was going to propel me in my career,” Randall recalled. “I really got a lot out of [mentorship experience] and understood the power of those conversations.”

These conversations that Randall had with her mentor proved to be vital in shifting her perspective and preparing for life after grad school. With the new changes to the DCΦBK mentorship program, Randall is optimistic that even more DCΦBK members can have meaningful mentorship experiences and powerful conversations like the ones she had as a mentee. 

Isaac Hughes is a recent graduate of Knox College, where he majored in environmental studies and philosophy. He was inducted to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior in 2020.