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A Community Linked by Unique Skills and Talents to Enrich Relationships


The CLUSTER proposes more than a mentoring program by educators for educators for AALANA faculty that will facilitate their professional growth and increase their representation as major contributors at RIT/NTID. The program will start from the AALANA faculty member’s orientation and continue throughout the individual’s tenure at the institute.

In direct response to RIT’s 2015 – 2025 Strategic Plan, the CLUSTER mentoring program complies with the following:

Objective III.7.4: Examine the current RIT Mentoring program to determine if it addresses the personal, professional, and career advancement needs of minority and female faculty and staff.


The CLUSTER concept is designed to empower faculty and meet their specific needs for career advancement. The model uses a multiple mentor approach that clusters around the faculty member (mentee) to ensure that his/her multifaceted needs are addressed.

Based on the Figure 1, this mentoring program will provide distinct interlocking clusters of support based on the criteria for promotion for lecturers (lecturer, senior lecturer, to principal lecturer), tenure and promotion (three-year review, tenure-track faculty to tenure/associate professor), and promotion (associate professor to professor).

Figure 1

A mentor can be from a mentee’s primary area of responsibility (teaching or tutoring). Because of the interlocking support areas, the mentor can have a mentee in another department or college. Mentors are sought by area(s) of expertise: teaching & tutoring (best practices in classroom or improving student relationships); scholarship (publishing or presentations); and service (campus or community). For NTID faculty, an extra support mentor may be necessary (communication). The CLUSTER may include extra support such as reviewing a candidate’s portfolio and helping set a timeline to ensure success. Faculty may need mentoring in maneuvering through the political maze of higher education whether on the department, college/unit, or institute level.

RIT/NTID Mentors

AALANA faculty should be aware of the extensive opportunities for mentoring provided by the Institute through the Center for Faculty Development [1]. CLUSTER will not duplicate any services already provided by RIT but will promote participation of AALANA faculty in the numerous activities already available. In addition to the Center for Faculty Development mentoring programs, AALANA can attend workshops given by Promotion and Tenure Smarts (P&T SMARTS) or NSF ADVANCE Connect @ RIT.

CLUSTER is more than a mentoring program. CLUSTER is a “Community Linked by Unique Skills and Talents to Enrich Relationships.” This additional mentoring model is provided through the provost’s office consistent with the research on best mentoring practices for faculty of color. [2] [3].


  • Carl Atkins
  • M. Renee Baker
  • Edward Brown
  • Kijana Crawford
  • Twyla Cummings
  • William Daniels
  • Marcos Esterman
  • Andre Hudson
  • Keith Jenkins, (Kevin’s title)
  • Edward Kannyo
  • Laverne McQuiller-Williams
  • dt ogilvie
  • Robert Osgood
  • Thomas Smith
  • Bolaji Thomas
  • Charlotte LV Thoms
  • Ada Rodriguez-Elliott, Administrative Support
Components Unique to CLUSTER

In this model, the faculty member will have access to a “constellation system” of supportive faculty who can fulfill different mentoring roles. The uniqueness of the CLUSTER is based on (a) specialized mentoring teams of faculty “outside” the RIT/NTID campus community and (b) an online web-based community for networking and collaboration specifically in scholarship.

Workshops are not the main driving force of the CLUSTER. RIT/NTID both provide more workshops than faculty can attend. Therefore, CLUSTER will encourage AALANA faculty to take full advantage of those professional-development opportunities.

However, to make the CLUSTER unique and supportive of AALANA success without duplication of opportunities, CLUSTER will function as a virtual resource for faculty with minimal workshops. The benefits are the same as students who take online courses: convenience, repetition, target need, and cost. 

Why this is more than a mentoring program. The CLUSTER website moves AALANA faculty from outside the academic circle to mainstream practices and activities in the RIT/NTID community. For example, a new faculty member may or may not know the importance of reading the provost or dean’s newsletter. The CLUSTER website pops up a reminder icon—stop and read.  Another example is a list of leaders who are important to faculty success: HR resources, scholarship grants, or conferences.

Virtual Mentoring Programs

Why virtual resources? Many AALANA faculty members feel embarrassed to ask questions that they assume everyone knows the answer but them. Many are first in their families to attend college. Therefore, the complexities of the academic arena are not what were discussed around the dining room table. Many AALANA faculty are the only person of color in the department; therefore, isolation becomes an issue. Therefore, on a rotation basis, there will be webinars focusing on each of the areas until we build a library of virtual resources.

RIT has embraced the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity for its faculty. This program is beneficial to faculty because of its Monday-motivator, webinars, and workshops. RIT is considering Re-Thinking Mentoring for 2016 for the spring mentoring workshop.

MentorString is a powerful virtual mentoring and secure social collaboration platform that is revolutionizing the way organizations manage and develop talent. This application allows organizations to easily implement and administer mentoring and coaching programs. In addition, it helps busy users quickly and conveniently to perform all the critical functions needed to conduct effective mentoring and coaching engagements from any platform or location. [4]

Just as CLUSTER is more than a mentoring program, Prositions’ MentorString is more than just software. It transforms talent through virtual mentoring and social knowledge with access to unique features like the StringDiagram and individual action/development plan. There is a complementary program for veterans.

Note: AFAC members can recommend other virtual tools as needed.

How RIT/NTID does it! For incoming faculty, a virtual booklet of resources will be accessible with examples of what is available to faculty. This resource will be revised annually. Incoming faculty are often overwhelmed with the vast knowledge of an institution like RIT/NTID. Information appears to be everywhere on the web; however, click CLUSTER and find information on a plethora of topics. There will be an icon that means HOW RIT DOES IT or HOW NTID DOES IT. Deans and chairs will be invited to produce videos outlining “what” is important to them. The provost can participate in this activity providing tips on what is important for new faculty to know. Administrators can highlight their concerns. This is the place Q&A that can be submitted anonymously.

Building an External Community

Building Relationships. As AALANA faculty members attend international and national conferences, mentors outside the Institute can be fostered and quality networking communities established. Hence, A Community Linked by Unique Skills and Talents to Enrich Relationships. These contacts will be evaluated by the AALANA Faculty Advisory Council (AFAC) to ascertain benefit to the CLUSTER community.

Annual RIT CLUSTER Conference. The AALANA Faculty Advisory Council can use this information to contact individuals to attend an RIT Annual CLUSTER Conference. This international and national conference will be unique to RIT/NTID. Mentors and mentees from around the world will come to campus to share strategies, mentoring tools, and experiences. Goal is for RIT to become the CLUSTER Resource Center benchmarked by other institutions of higher learning.

Other Conferences. Black Doctoral Network is a clearinghouse for individuals of African descent who are holders of or scholars engaged in the pursuit of doctoral degrees from accredited institutions of higher learning worldwide. We provide opportunities for networking and collaboration and foster interconnectedness within the black intelligentsia for the purpose of eliminating the achievement gap among persons at all education levels while creating a pipeline for the most underserved students toward the upper echelons of the academy and beyond. [5]

CLUSTER Timeline







Attend Faculty Orientation(s)

Introduce Faculty Associate/Chairperson

Introduction of CLUSTER program

Give card with virtual resource book url to new faculty

Announce Meet & Greet

Encourage AALANA faculty to post conferences attending.

AFAC will present CLUSTER to leaders of conferences to inquire about videotapes (many presentations are videotaped and can be purchased or given to participates. We will inquire if can be used on CLUSTER site. Check with legal department or HG)



Present plans for academic year

Delegate AFAC members to different activities

Decide on Spring mentoring workshop guest & approval from VP of D&I and provost

Meet & Greet (Mentors introduce themselves to prospective mentees)

Match mentors and mentees



Provide CLUSTER progress report

Invite AALANA faculty to share experiences at AFAC meeting

Introduce writing boot camp



Use virtual tool(s) for writing boot camp

Encourage AALANA faculty to submit scholarship to RIT

Evaluate CLUSTER groups

Develop writing teams using bluejeans (skype)

Host a virtual meeting

Video conference calls.



Delegate and plan for spring mentoring workshop

Receive reports from AFAC members who accepted different responsibilities



Check on progress of writing boot camp

Check on progress of CLUSTER

Investigate new virtual tools for mentoring

Showcase success stories

Visit AALANA faculty (RIT/NTID)




Re-Thinking Mentoring - NCFDD

Seek RIT/NTID professors to develop webinar for writing boot camp to be introduced to AALANA faculty in November based on AFAC input

Paper abstract submissions for April Awards & Recognition



Build library of internal and external mentors

Bring AALANA faculty together to showcase those who have meet scholarship goals, service awards, teaching goals. This is a two-hour conference that will showcase various formats (i.e. round table discussion or paper presentation).



Lunch with Executive Committee – Feedback on previous year’s accomplishment, present plans for next academic year.  Recommendations from provost, VP of D&I, and Faculty Associate for AALANA

Report to provost and VP of D&I



International RIT/NTID CLUSTER Conference

Bring the best of the best to RIT to present strategies, new virtual mentoring tools, and experiences to campus. This will develop into the premiere conference for AALANA faculty.



Send revisions (additions to rank of professor who will mentor, calendar of events, and other pertinent information) to Webmaster for academic year

This is an opportunity for co-mentoring sub-groups to connect, revisit work goals, and make headway on current work projects.  This will be a two-day writing retreat held in January. Writing facilitators will be present to assist groups and provide feedback on research or grant projects.



Post RIT/NTID professional development opportunities to CLUSTER website

Internal and External Conferences AALANA faculty should attend (participants or attendees)


[1] The Wallace Center, Center for Faculty Development

[2] Agosto, V., Karanxha, Z., Unterreiner, A., Cobb-Roberts, D. Esnard, T. & Beck, M., (in press). Running bamboo: A mentoring network of women intending to thrive in academia. NASPA Journal about Women in Higher Education

[3] Esnard, T., Cobb-Roberts, D., Agosto, V., Karanxha, Z., Beck, M., Wu, K., & Unterreiner, A. (2015). Productive tensions in a cross-cultural peer mentoring women’s network: A social capital perspective. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 23(1), 19-36.

[4] Prositions. Mentoring Software.

[5] Black Doctoral Network.