“Empowering students to take ownership of learning through reverse mentoring will certainly help them gain confidence and prepare for real-world expectations.”

That is the message from 27-year-old student Paula Purgal, who jumped at the chance to boost her skills by mentoring the University of Sunderland’s Head of School of Business and Management, Professor Monika Foster.

In reverse mentoring, a junior team member enters into a “professional friendship” with someone more senior, and they exchange skills, knowledge and understanding.

The ultimate aim is to empower students in the workplace, centred on ‘role reversal’ and flipping traditional power dynamics on their head.

Paula, who is in her final year studying a Business and Applied Management degree, explained: “Reverse mentoring can be crucial for many students as it gives them the ability to be “in charge” which is not typical at this early stage in their careers.

“It is a remarkable process but also a big responsibility and a chance to experience the theory in practice.

“It also gives students the opportunity to create contacts in the business world.

“The best part is the ability to create a network and remove the hierarchy that sometimes gets in the way of the communication tunnel.

“It also contributed to the deeper development of my leadership skills and improved my initiative.

“In addition, I could see what projects Professor Monika was working on, which gave me a practice in business and allowed me to expand my knowledge and apply the theory that I learned during my studies.

“Additionally, it developed my creative thinking as I always tried to give Professor Monika a fresh look and a new perspective.”

Paula is not the only one to have benefitted, though.

Through reverse mentoring, Monika wanted to gain a true student perspective and experience how the students apply their knowledge of organisations to guiding a leader of a school.

“As a qualified coach and mentor, I was excited and curious to reverse the roles and enjoy being guided by a student so when Paula said she’d reverse mentor me, I was very pleased she agreed,” Monika said.

“Getting to know Paula and her perspectives on how she’d approach issues and projects I am working on has been a completely unexpected learning curve.

“Less over-thinking and a very current, well informed approach by the literature that she uses for her course was illuminating.

“Paula made me think through the new perspectives and her refreshing approach made me feel 20 years younger!”

Paula also helped Monika improve her understanding of how students use technology for both learning and social interaction.

Monika said: “At first, we concentrated on digital, how students engage with learning digitally, how they access social groups.

“Paula has opened my eyes to the’ hidden’ side of student interactions, mainly on closed Facebook groups, some set by colleagues in the School, which was great to hear.”

Paula, who is originally from Poland but now lives in Sunderland, added: “The amazing results that come from this relationship can be seen.

“It has been an opportunity for Professor Monika to get to know the real perspective and opinion of a business student on matters relating to her work at the University.

“In addition, I’ve helped her discover the digital aspect that is an inseparable part of present and future education.

“I am also giving her tips on social media and what could be improved to better interact with and between students.”