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The CAPED Mentorship Program (CMP) turns “Three”

Author:  Lucinda Aborn, Ph.D.; Jill Baker, Ed.D.

CAPED received a grant from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO) in 2016 to establish a “mentorship program” for new DSPS Directors.  This year’s review marks the third year of the program, and that is a momentous benchmark.  The CAPED Mentorship Program (CMP) has reached a point of maturity and is now an established program. 

CAPED Officers Council first proposed the project knowing the importance of training for new directors. They based it upon current research, which found a crucial need for continuous support for DSPS new directors to learn the many facets of their jobs.  Per the model they envisioned, the CMP pairs new DSPS Directors (Protégés) with more experienced DSPS Directors (Mentors).  The mentorship pairs work together over the course of one year to share new information and learn best practices of the profession.  The size of the program varies with the number of new directors in the field. In Year One, the 2016-2017 CMP cohort had 25 pairs.  The 2017-2018 Year Two cohort had 21 pairs and the 2018-2019 Year Three cohort had 17 pairs.  That brings the total number of new DSPS Directors and Deans participating in the program over the last three years to more than 60.  The CMP continues to provide support to new DSPS Directors and has received funding from the CCCCO for Year Four.

Project Overview

Over the course of the year the CMP conducts scheduled activities to support the mentorship pairs with their learning.  These activities are in addition to the time spent by the pairs in their own communication and activities.  The CMP utilizes a Canvas course site to provide learning modules for monthly training topics and discussion forums.  The training topics reflect the job responsibilities of new directors, and are sequenced to align with the fiscal year when they will be needing them. During the year, the CMP conducts two face-to-face training sessions. The training sessions bring together experts from the field to present on various topics, such as: “What Happens during an OCR Investigation,” “Assistive Technologies,” and “Serving Deaf/Hard of Hearing Students.”  The trainings also provide an opportunity for pairs to ask questions and share best practices. One-day site training visits were introduced this year, giving two protégés and two mentors the opportunity to host training for their college faculty and DSPS staff in the area of Universal Design for Learning. 

Comprehensive Program Evaluation

Each year, the CMP conducts a program evaluation to examine the learning and knowledge that was gained overall by the protégés and the mentors.  Both quantitative and qualitative data are gathered to better understand the effectiveness and outcomes of the program and its activities. Using a comprehensive evaluation survey, protégés and mentors respond to questions common to both groups, but also respond to questions specific to their roles. For instance, protégés participate in a pre- and post-self-assessment of knowledge in the following six areas of practice for a DSPS Director: “DSPS Services,” “Laws and Regulations,” “Budget and Fiscal Resources,” “Personnel,” “Institutional Activities” and “Campus Governance.” Each of these six areas of practice contain four topics. For example, “Budget and Fiscal Resources” is comprised of: “How to Manage Your Budget,” “DSPS Allocation Formula,” “SSARCC,” and “MIS Reporting,” all of which are extremely important parts of a DSPS Director’s job. In addition, protégés are assessed on the outcome of professional self-efficacy, which addresses the confidence of reaching out to colleagues with questions, and developing a circle of support.

Mentors respond to questions evaluating their perspective on the program activities and their experience as a mentor. Both groups respond to questions regarding how often they met during the year, the modality that they used for meeting or communicating, whether the program met their expectations, and the effectiveness of each of the activities offered, including the Canvas course site. In all sections of the evaluation, participants are asked open-ended questions to find out a little more about their response, or to elaborate on their experiences and thoughts regarding the program.

The findings from each year inform the next year’s activities and experiences, which has led to three years of continued improvement of the program.

Three Years of Findings

The CMP has used the same evaluation instrument for all three years, and that has provided a long-term overview of program outcomes.

What the Numbers Tell Us

The findings tell us that by our third year, our mentorship pairs were contacting each other more often and spending more hours on those contacts than in prior years.  They also told us that while email and telephone were still the most common means of communication, one in four participants were now meeting face-to-face, which is an increase. These changes most likely reflect leadership response to suggestions from the field to create more effective pairings by assuring geographic proximity and similar programs or program needs for the pairs.

By Year Three, both mentors and protégés felt the Canvas course site was useful in building their knowledge and skills, but protégés found the site more useful, as would be expected. Each year both groups ranked the course site’s PPT presentations and lectures as the most useful instructional resource on it. Of the modules posted, “Budget and Fiscal Management” was consistently ranked either first or second in importance for each of the three years. In Years One and Two, modules addressing Personnel and the training sessions completed the top three for importance to practice. However, by Year Three, changes in the field were taking precedence, with “DSPS Plan Evaluation Survey” and “P1 DSPS Allocation” rated second and third in importance.

In terms of ranking the CMP activities for “most beneficial to their learning,” the importance of the mentorship relationship again came to the forefront. Both mentors and protégés rated “meetings with their pair” as “most beneficial to their learning.” This was followed very closely by the two face-to-face training sessions, and then the Canvas course site.  This speaks to the importance of human interaction, engagement, and targeted training in a mentorship program. In terms of the quality of the match between the pairs over the past three years, mentors and protégés found them to be high in Year One, with a slight downturn in Year Two, and a significant rebound to the highest levels yet in Year Three. When asked if they planned to maintain contact with their pair, both mentors and protégés indicated to the highest levels that they would like to do so. This was true for all three years of the program.

As a stand-alone question, mentors were asked to rank the CMP activities and their experiences according to strengths of the program, and consistently placed “Mentor Match” in first place for all three years. This was followed by “Support for you in your mentoring activities,” “Contact from CMP in a timely manner,” and “Canvas course PPTs and Lectures,” in second, third, and fourth place, in varying order for all three years. This response accentuates the two prongs of the program: the importance of relationships, including those with the CMP leadership, and the benefit of formal learning activities.

Learning outcomes for the protégés indicated that for all three years, “Budget and Fiscal Management” was the area of practice where they experienced the greatest learning, that their learning was significantly supported by their participation in the CMP, and that the knowledge was extremely important to the performance of their job. “How to Manage Your Budget” was the individual topic with the highest outcomes of all.  “Laws and Regulations” and “DSPS Services” modules followed closely behind “Budget and Fiscal Management.” Overall learning outcomes for Year Three were exceptional.

In terms of whether the program met their expectations, the vast majority of mentors felt that it did, and equally important, no one said that it did not meet their expectations. Protégés were given more targeted questions in terms of expectations. Over the course of three years, protégés consistently rated their experiences as exceeding expectations far more than meeting them. By Year Three, 78% felt that the program exceeded their expectations for the high level of relevance to what they were doing in the field, 68% felt that it exceeded their expectations in terms of making connections with other directors, and 56% felt that it exceeded their expectations for learning about the role of CAPED in the disabilities profession. No one indicated that it did not meet their expectations.

What Their Voices Tell Us

Relationships are everything. In each of the three years, protégés and mentors described the relationships they developed and the benefit this had on their practice. In Year One, two themes emerged from the open-ended responses that related to relationships. The first was “Building relationships and networks, interacting, learning from each other within the group.” It was clear from the individual responses that participants valued the group discussions and interactions, which were summarized by one individual as an experience where they could “come together, network, and share common issues and experiences happening on each campus.” The second theme was “Establishing a close working relationship with the Protégé/Mentor.” This was summarized by one protégé: “I have learned so much from my mentor, throughout this process. Her amazing depth of knowledge and willingness to share ideas with me has been extremely beneficial.” And by one mentor: “Perhaps one of my favorite parts of the CMP was the enthusiasm of my Mentee…” and another who said, “Learned so much from my protégé.” One of the suggestions for the next year was to create a Level 2 program so they could continue working together.

In Year Two, the theme of “Shared experiences to gain confidence,” emerged. One protégé summarized it concisely: “It has been great just knowing what all colleges do, and to interact and see what areas we all find difficult and what areas we just needed a recommendation to resolve the concerns.  I found the experience very helpful and would recommend it highly.”

In Year Three, the theme of “Relationship Building” emerged again. One participant described its benefit in this way: “Receiving the opportunity to develop a relationship with a colleague on another campus and understanding what they are encountering and how they are resolving issues at their college.” Another stated, “I enjoy seeing DSPS through the eyes of someone new to the director’s role.  It actually gives me hope.”

Mutual learning occurs in mentoring relationships and works in both directions.  In Years Two and Three, “Mutual Learning” emerged as a major theme. Both protégés and mentors commented that learning took place from participation in the mentorship program. They expressed the positive feeling of being able to establish a network of professionals with whom they could continue to grow and problem-solve on the job. Both groups noted mutual respect and continued growth as they maintained contact throughout the year. Some of the comments included:

  • “Networking relationships developed. We learned from each other as we explored questions together as well as the challenges.”
  • “The most powerful thing about this whole experience is that it reminded me that I wasn’t alone in my DSPS Director-related challenges and that many others have or are having similar experiences/challenges.”
  • “I realized that many colleges and districts are different in how they work.  My Protégé and I learned a lot from each other.”
  • “I learned more about curriculum working with my Protégé.”
  •  “It’s an experience each year that is always new.  We have so much to learn from each other.”

Closing theme: Ensuring legacy:  Both protégés and mentors felt it was important to nurture the legacy of more “seasoned” mentors who were retiring.  

  • A protégé said: “Many of the current mentors are retiring, and we new directors need to glean their knowledge, but we also need to develop strong relationships among the new crop, as they likely will be working together, state-wide, for many years to come.”
  • A mentor said:Perhaps in somehow ensuring that the mentor’s knowledge and experience are passed down, and that personal legacy is created in the protégé? How to do that exactly though, [is] hard to say.  With so many people across the state retiring though, institutional knowledge is a key resource we have to protect.”


For a third consecutive year, the CAPED Mentorship Program was successful in meeting the outcomes stated in the original proposal.  Each year an annual work plan was carried out with modifications based on feedback from participants in the prior year.  This year’s evaluation evidence again indicates the learning outcomes were fully achieved and met the expectations of the knowledge foundation for new DSPS Directors. Relationships were built between mentors and protégés and with others in the program. There were unintentional positive outcomes which benefited the Mentors in their careers as they too learned best practices. CAPED plans to continue organizational support for the CMP activities into a fourth year. The Chancellor’s Office has recently approved a continuation of funding for the 2019-2020 year.

CAPED Officers Council and DSPS Solutions have provided additional support for this important partnership with the Chancellor’s Office.  CAPED looks forward to member support of the CMP.  For more information about the CMP, contact Lucinda Aborn, CMP Coordinator, at: