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New student mentors senior professor

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Published on 29 June 2022

Professor Monika Foster and Darryn Walker
Professor Monika Foster and Darryn Walker

There can be few students who start university by mentoring their own Head of School, but first year BA (Hons) Business and Management student Darryn Walker did.

Darryn just completed the first year of his degree and acted as mentor to Professor Monika Foster, Head of School of Business and Management at the University of Sunderland.

Last year Professor Foster worked with a final year student to understand how students engaged with technology during the pandemic in order to help her with leading the school’s response. This year, as students returned to on-campus learning, she wanted to help students re-engage with campus life and so agreed to be mentored by a first-year student.

Professor Foster says: “As a qualified coach and mentor, I was excited and curious to reverse the roles and be guided by a student. Working with first year students helped me gain a very different, fresh perspective as they enter university. I was very pleased when Darryn agreed to reverse mentor me.”

Darryn, 48, from South Shields, worked in administration and retail before coming to the University of Sunderland. He was working at a community centre when the pandemic struck, and in 2020 decided to study business.

He says: “It’s my long-term goal to start a business of my own. I am using this course as an opportunity to gain the best possible understanding of managing a business. 

“As a student, I am interested in how a business works and what contributes to a successful business or a failed business. Mentoring Monika has helped me to understand how meticulously learning programmes are devised. I was also able to understand the challenges faces by teaching staff and why the teaching programmes are presented in the form that they are.

“Reverse mentoring has been an invaluable opportunity, allowing me to offer direct feedback on how my course is progressing. I feel proud of the fact that I have been given this opportunity, and was able to take an active role in my education.”

Reverse mentoring can be ground-breaking in sharing of knowledge and skills, and in building the relationship between junior and senior employees. It brings many benefits to both parties and reverses the rules of traditional top to bottom training and learning techniques.

Professor Foster says: “As we got to know each other I have learned why Darryn chose to study business, and the experience he brought to his studies as a mature student. He has opened my eyes to the ‘hidden’ side of the rich experience mature students bring to our courses.

“The experience has been very valuable perspectives for me. We want to make our undergraduate curriculum as attractive and relevant to the students as possible. Darryn made me think this through with a whole new perspective. His refreshing approach made me feel 20 years younger!”

Although mentoring and peer mentoring are widely known in Higher Education, reverse mentoring is less well known and only just beginning to be used. While mentoring can be quite hierarchical, peer mentoring has a more even balance of power. In employment settings, it is based on role reversal in which junior employees mentor those more senior.