The Importance of Being A Positive Mentor; From The Voice of An Intern

By Dave Bennett, Olds College Student and Sundre Golf Club Intern

No matter the industry which you take on a role as a mentor, there are many important qualities, traits and even sacrifices required in order to have a positive influence on your intern.  Ensuring that you are ready to train the future prospects of the industry and take on this important role is a huge sacrifice for any mentor but can be very rewarding at the same time.

I am currently an intern while attending Olds College working toward my degree in Turfgrass Management.  This is my third season in the golf course industry and I’m currently in my second year of the degree program.  So to say I am still fairly new and am hungry to learn the new industry I began [is an understatement]. 

I was formerly a Chef in the culinary industry but left to take on my other passion, which is the golf course industry.  During my culinary time, I served as a mentor to many employees under me over time.  Having experience as a mentor and now an intern, has led me to write this article based on the importance of being a positive mentor to your intern or employees and the influence you can have on them based on my experience, serving as one or the other.

 What role does an intern serve for his mentor?  As an intern, we are hungry for knowledge, full of passion and eagerness to learn from our mentors and fellow employees during our internship.  We have developed a large networking group between classmates so we like to share our experiences and progress at our courses.  We serve 4 months at the college each year in class and learn from some of the best Turfgrass Management professionals in the industry.  We have developed programs for the industry which could help some of the more experienced superintendents with things such as digital job boards, cultural practice calendar planning, greens report cards, irrigation troubleshooting guides, sand particle sizing spreadsheets, fertilizing calculators and the list goes on.

We learn about soil sampling, USGA construction of greens and drainage, irrigation software, abiotic/biotic stresses, pesticides and fertilizers and so much more.  What does this do for a mentor or the club itself?  Well if you are able to adapt to change, we can introduce these programs to you and show you how they work and develop it together to fit the course we are at.

The benefits of these programs are that they can save you from tons of paperwork, filing and historical data collection as everything can be saved onto a drive without need for paper and file boxes stacking up in your office taking up space.  Also, as an intern we work hard, striving to produce top quality results in a cultural practice or any job we may face in the industry. 

We want to take everything we learn to help out the course, help you as a mentor, as well as make you look good.  We may even take some of the pressure off you and to be part of something that made a difference.  Sitting in a class and learning about soils is one thing but being out in the field and actually doing soil testing, bulk density tests, irrigation duties, spraying, etc, is a whole new level.  Way more exciting, no offence Mr. Dave Moroz!

As a Chef, I bet I learned more from my interns then I did during school, learning how to manage people, the new tricks and tips of the trade and I really looked forward to working with my interns, even though it involved me having to put aside a little extra personal time to help them out.  But in the long run, it was some of the best experiences I’ve had.

What role does a mentor have on an intern?  As a mentor, your interns look up to you like a father or mother, odd way of putting it, but interns want to be taken under your wing, listen to your words of wisdom and take in all the knowledge you can give and share.  It is important, as a mentor, to be there for your intern when they struggle with certain cultural practices or other duties, or even school work at times.  Take the time to show them properly and give them back some constructive criticism so they can learn from it.  Yelling really does not help.

After our 4 months of in-class studies, the interns at Olds College head out to the courses where we are employed and continue to do our education for the entire remainder of the golf course season, right to closing day.  Unlike the old program, students were in class for 8 months and only able to work 4 months so this is new to the industry, and as far as I am concerned, it works great.  That being said, for that 6 months or so of work, if you are looking to take on an intern, it’s like taking on a new responsibility for the entire summer and you need to make sure you are prepared for the sacrifices and time needed to support your intern.

You must be willing to share your knowledge and include your intern in special projects or events in the area.  Build a trusting relationship with your intern, not saying you have to be buddies, but show your intern why you hired them and give them some of your responsibility out on the course to take the pressure off you with the smaller details for instance, supervising the crew, taking on special projects, daily maintenance, etc. Sounds like a lot of work but having an intern can also be very beneficial!

A few benefits for a mentor taking on an intern include things such as learning new tricks, about products or programs of the trade.  As a culinary professional, our trade changed all the time with new products and techniques, kind of like the golf course industry.  Interns have a huge access to social networking as we are together with 20 or more other students in class, plus our instructors, plus their mentors and their staff.  This could come in handy when you face an unfamiliar situation and your contacts may not be able to help.  Your intern will have contacts and somewhere down the line, there will or should always be a solution.

Programs created by create can save you time and money.  You will just have to take one on or come to the college to check out what we’re working on next.  Some of the reports and assignments can benefit your course.  We’re not coming in to change your course or the way you do things but we get assigned certain tasks which could help the course and maybe there’s something you missed or never had time to do with your busy schedule.  For example, this year I had to choose an abiotic/biotic stress and identify it on the golf course; I then had to come up with a solution to relieve the stress. 

Mr. Jason Pick has put together a class for our second year that has been both beneficial to my education as well as the course itself.  I ended up fixing the backside of a green on the course where we have bentgrass suffering from shade stress.  After researching the issue, I came up with and carried out a solution with the help of my superintendent.

Did I mention I have only been in this industry for my third season now?  I’d bet your other regular employees would not go out of the way to do that for you!  And that was only one of 8 assignments we had this summer.

Most importantly, I’ve always felt as a mentor, it was about building that relation with your intern, gaining the respect and trust from him while watching them grow in the industry.  It always seemed to give me a sense of gratitude and self-accomplishment knowing I have helped mold and develop a future prospect in the industry.  And if you really succeeded as a mentor, these interns will stick with you and become long term employees who you know you can always rely on.  We all know how hard it is having to start over and training new staff!

To finish, I will say there are many superintendents out there looking for interns and only a few are lucky enough to have one or more at their course from Olds College.  If you do not have the time or are super busy like most superintendents are, then do not take away the experience your intern should have!  Maybe a few years down the road, once you have settled at your course and gain some extra time, you could look into bringing on an intern. 

In order to become a positive influence as a mentor to your intern, I feel and have experienced the fact that you will need to support them through school and the time they serve for you.  Do not be afraid to share your knowledge or gain new knowledge from your intern and to listen to their ideas.  Interns always need your guidance to ensure they are on the right track, as we get worked hard in school.  Sometimes the class is not long enough for us to take in everything so this is why we as interns, work at a course we choose to put all the theories to test.  Take the tiny little bit of extra time you have and help mold and influence your intern into a future superintendent prospect.  Maybe that one day you retire and look into purchasing a membership at your local club, and see your past intern now running the show, you know the course will run great and you can enjoy your cold ones and a round of golf.  This, all coming from a voice of a present intern, out in the field, enjoying his life in the industry!