Associate Professor and Research on Organizational Mentoring Relationships
Loyola Marymount University
Dr. Ellen Ensher is proof that you can do it all—with some ingenuity and foresight. Teaching, publishing, consulting, pushing knowledge to new limits: Dr. Ensher has managed all of this in just a few years since earning her Ph.D. Among the accomplishments of which she is the most proud stands her 2005 book, Power Mentoring, co-authored with Claremont faculty member Susan Murphy.
The primary focus of her research, as one might guess from her recent book, has been on the mentoring relationship. "One of most compelling findings throughout my work," Dr. Ensher explains, "Is the constant themes of trust and reciprocity. One of the defining points in the mentor/mentee relationship is the moment that they realize they are able to be vulnerable. Also, if there’s no give-and-take, it’s nearly impossible to get a working relationship on track."
The book, subtitled "How Successful Mentors and Protégés Get the Most out of Their Relationships," has had a warm reception worldwide—even leading to Drs. Ensher and Murphy being invited to give mentoring workshops in the quickly developing market of South Africa.
"The South African market faces some interesting challenges in the area of mentoring in the business sector," she explains. "With the strong affirmative action laws put in place after the fall of apartheid, many South Africans of European descent are being forced into mentoring roles for newly appointed, African-descended managers. This causes some reaction against the mentor role, which is not typical in the United States."
This was far from the first time Dr. Ensher looked into diversity issues in the mentoring relationship. Her initiation into the area came in the 1990s, when the Los Angeles Times instituted a program to match high-potential, high-risk high school students with college mentors. Ellen, who was beginning her graduate program and doing some consulting for the Times, began posing tough questions to the program’s administration. Would cross-race mentoring be more or less effective than same-race mentoring? The issue, still a vital one today, had special resonance in the wake of the recent Los Angeles riots. The Times’ program offered a perfect opportunity for a randomized experiment, but Ellen found herself in need of a mentor to guide the way. Fortunately, she met Dr. Susan Murphy through Claremont Graduate University, and a life-long bond was formed. "We published that study as an article in 1997," Dr. Ensher recalls. "In some ways, it was beginners’ luck—but I’m proud that the study still gets cited pretty frequently."
Drs. Ensher and Murphy continue collaborating in many ways, and have even traveled (with and without their children) together around the world. "We hiked Machu Pichu once. It was quite an experience!" she says.
We asked Dr. Ensher how she arrived at her position at Loyola Marymount University, and what advice she would pass along to graduate students who hope to become academics. "I actually took a very targeted approach. I had to stay in the Los Angeles area due to family commitments, and I knew I liked the small, private-school experience. I had taught part-time at LMU during my doctoral program, and knew it might be the place for me."
"I would advise graduate students headed for academia to start early. The earlier you think about what kind of school you want to teach at, the better. Make yourself the ideal candidate. Find out what kind of research you want to do, but also ask personal questions. What kind of lifestyle are you looking for? What kind of colleagues do you want to have? I chose a small school where there is a hybrid model of research and teaching, because I knew I wanted to do both. But make your choices about your career path—and remember that that path begins in grad school!"