The School of Architecture’s Melissa Goldman Advocates for Peer Mentorship Initiative for UVA Staff

In late spring, the UVA Staff Senate announced the winners of the second annual Hoos Making an Impact competition, a venue that gives UVA academic staff an opportunity to share ideas on how to foster staff success.  Each winning idea receives $1,000, plus up to $100,000 of additional funding to support its implementation on Grounds.

“I am extremely excited to see the quality of thought and innovation of staff submissions and thankful for the overwhelming support of President Ryan, Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis, and Executive Vice President and Provost Ian Baucom in sustaining this significant competition that celebrates staff and their commitment to cultivating success in our mission to be good and great,” Staff Senate co-chair Patrick Wood said.

Two winning proposals were selected from 44 submissions this year, including the School of Architecture’s Melissa Goldman’s idea for a staff mentoring program. Goldman, the A-School’s fabrication lab manager and lecturer, has had a long history of advocacy on behalf of her staff peers.  

Melissa Goldman Portrait by Tom Daly
The School of Architecture's Melissa Goldman was selected as a Hoos Making an Impact winner for her idea to create a mentoring program for staff to collaborate on successes, support, development and opportunities. Photo by Tom Daly.

Presenting to the Chairs of the Staff Senate and representatives from the Offices of the President and Provost, Goldman’s pitch was for a staff mentoring program to provide a wide network of staff support, development, knowledge-sharing and celebration of success. The program also plans to develop training on best practices in mentorship, for both mentors and mentees.

The initiative was seeded from her many years serving as a member and leader on the UVA Staff Senate, through which she gained insights about the many ways staff seeks informal mentoring and their voiced acknowledgment of wanting more opportunities to engage across Schools and units.  

“There are so many amazing individuals who fulfill important roles as staff at UVA and I’ve heard that there is more and more interest in formalizing connections — staff to staff, across Grounds, and in ways that meet a diverse set of needs,” shared Goldman. “Professional development and career pathways are an important part of this, but just as essential are building community, well-being, and pride in working for an incredible institution.”

The proposal and program also draw from a changed, and changing, higher education landscape and workforce, significantly altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a recent article titled “The Teaching and Learning Workforce in Higher Education, 2024,” author Nicole Muscanell highlights several key findings (excerpted) on the current state of affairs, based on approximately 1,000 respondents from different position areas and levels in higher education.

  • A majority of respondents (85%) felt that having access to remote/hybrid work options is important.
  • A majority of respondents (85%) indicated that they have more than one primary area of responsibility.
  • Excessive workloads and burnout are negatively impacting mental health and morale; 82% of those experiencing "a lot" of burnout within the past 12 months reported having an excessive workload as compared to 47% of those experiencing little to no burnout.
  • Respondents want their institutions to make professional development opportunities more widely available, tailor development pathways to individuals, do more to help people get the most out of professional development opportunities, and improve communication and coordination of these opportunities.
  • Moving forward, institutions will need to prioritize employee well-being and morale; Due to the changing landscape of teaching and learning, institutions will also need to find ways to better support change management.

Muscanell’s research also elaborates on four areas in which institutions could take actions to better support professional development, broadly described as: 1) Removing barriers and making opportunities more widely available, 2) Tailoring professional development pathways to individuals, 3) Helping people get the most out of professional development opportunities, and 4) Improving information, communication, and coordination.

The peer staff mentorship initiative Goldman envisages would address many of these national trends and issues that also resonate at UVA — and would aim to work in concert with UVA Human Resources existing mentorship offerings.

Goldman will serve as a thought partner on this project that will be championed by experts in Human Resources, including Director of Talent Management Caroline Cullen and Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer John Koskey. Aligned with the University’s 2030 Great and Good Plan’s strategic pillar to promote staff success, the roll out of a staff peer mentoring program will likely kick off with a series of participatory events that will focus on discussion and dialogue around the question: 

What does professional development looks like for staff at different stages in their careers and across different Schools and units, and how does mentorship fit into that development?

Peer mentorship is part of a common goal to provide the best possible support so that staff can work in a productive and positive environment, accessing resources that might uniquely suit their needs.  “I’ve learned so much for other staff members at the School of Architecture and across Grounds over the years,” said Goldman. “I look forward to helping to build upon existing resources to create a robust peer mentorship program for UVA that is focused on strong relationship building — and that is supportive, energizing and sustaining.”

Nicole Muscanell. The Teaching and Learning Workforce in Higher Education, 2024. Research report. Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE, February 2024.

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