Wisdom Flows Both Ways in Informal Mentorship Program

by Kala Ortwein

Donna Finley, PhD’12, is no stranger to UCalgary, but the impact of her work far exceeds what the average person on campus would ever know. Since the 1990s, Finley has been the driver behind several key organizational changes at UCalgary and her work has engaged faculty, staff and students. Precisely why Finley was hired to work on our Alumni Strategy, that is currently in the works.

When Finley was considering taking a PhD in the 2000s, her initial thought was to attend Stanford University until she considered the strong mentors she had at UCalgary. In fact, four faculty members Finley had previously worked with made up her PhD supervisory committee in Knowledge Management.

Finley attributes the value of being a UCalgary alumna to the mentorship opportunities she found with exceptional academics and professionals. In fact, it was this enthusiasm for mentorship that led Finley and her daughter and business associate, Rebecca Finley-Schidlowsky, to create Connections: Mentorship Circle. Here, Finley describes the concept:

What is Connections?
Its purpose is to empower and support women in a positive environment through discussion, mentorship and skills-building. It’s an opportunity for women of all ages to gather and learn from each other at sessions that happen every two months. It’s a diverse network of 160 women who support one another.

How did Connections come to be?
My daughter, Rebecca, would encourage her friends to take me out for coffee and get some advice about how they could manage their career. So, finally, I said to her, “I don’t think I have time for many more coffees! But could we put together a group where we could share these ideas at one time?” It was very well-received and, in response, we made these meetings into two-hour sessions where we have an academic program and where we can learn best practices together.

Are the meetings themed?
Programming focuses on creating well-rounded leaders by helping women grow in five areas: career, personal, spiritual, and health and well-being. Each session is facilitated by participants, giving them the opportunity to practise real-world skills in a safe environment while challenging them to step outside their comfort zone. A goal of Connections is to place every woman in the Circle onto a board, which is why Board Governance 101 is a key pillar of programming. Other sessions have included “Women & Politics,” featuring [former broadcaster] Nirmala Naidoo, and “You Can’t Break It! So Stop Being Afraid of Technology,” featuring UCalgary’s Department of Computer Science.

How are mentors/mentees matched?
They are connected based on interests and desired learnings. We try our best to pair up possible participants and, if a genuine connection happens, we encourage participants to keep the relationship going.


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