APA Chapter Mentoring Tips

APA chapters around the country are committed to providing mentorship programs to students, emerging and seasoned professionals. The mentoring programs are in a variety of formats with the same goal; making a difference in the health and vitality of the association and the planning profession. Mentoring programs benefit all parties involved.

APA Chapters across the country share their methods and tips for creating a successful mentoring program.

Arizona Chapter

Mentoring and Job Shadowing

APA's Arizona Chapter is a 1,000-plus member organization of professional planners and planning officials who serve Arizona's communities in many ways, at all levels of government, the private sector and not-for-profit organizations.

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Overview: The Arizona Chapter accomplishes their mentoring mission through the Young Planners Group (YPG), which plays a critical role in the program with the chapter providing support, training, and opportunities for knowledge exchange among YPGs and across the chapter.

Process: Each group, mentors and mentees apply to the program and are matched by the YPG committee.

Format: A seven-month program beginning in the Fall where the mentoring is accomplished through meetings. Job shadowing is highly encouraged. The program consists of six meetings with suggested time frames and discussion topics. The first and last meetings are mixers.

Content: First meeting is to network and get acquainted. For the second meeting, suggested topics include private and/or public sector sharing stories, interests, and advice is recommended. Move to discussing planning professions, ethics and planning practice. It is suggested that students shadow mentors in the workplace environment for a few hours. In the last meetings, its recommended that the pair do a preliminary resume critique and discuss career development strategies.

Notes: A successful mentoring program begins with the strong commitment and participation of mentors and mentees. Mentees are encouraged to be the drivers of the partnership.

California Chapter

Sacramento Valley Association — Planning + Leadership + Advancement + Networking

APA's California Chapter, Sacramento Valley Section, provides a variety of professional development services. The Sacramento Valley Section provides varied and unique educational and networking opportunities for members through conferences and AICP Exam preparation programs.

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The mission of PLAN Sac Valley (Planning + Leadership + Advancement + Networking) is to provide the next generation of professional planners a dynamic and challenging one-on-one and group mentoring forum for personal and professional growth and advancement.

PLAN is dedicated to providing young planners with new technical insight into planning and other related fields, professional development tips, leadership skills, networking strategies, exposure to community service and more.


  • Organize a dedicated committee/group of volunteers willing to support the program as the process of developing and implementing the program can be time intensive.
  • Gather feedback from program participants throughout the program year. to evolve and improve the program to better meet the needs of participants
  • Strive to strike a balance with program expectations related to participation in program activities and preparation for program activities.
  • Create networking opportunities with the larger group so relationships are strengthened and trust is built. This helps make the conversations during group discussions more dynamic and thoughtful.
  • Stress the value of goal setting for mentor-mentee pair at the beginning of program.
  • Hold orientations for mentors and mentees to help get everyone on the same page about program expectations and how to get the most out of the program.
  • Continually discuss and identify strategies to ensure strong mentee participation
  • Be thoughtful in reviewing applications, to ensure the selection of strong candidates who are dedicated to participating in the program, and to find good mentor-mentee pairs.

The program received the Chapter Presidents Council 2013 Karen B. Smith Award for Outstanding Service to Members. PLAN matches those just starting their careers with established technical and policy planning professionals to help mentees:

  • Build an extended network of peers and professionals that serve as a valuable resource during and after the PLAN program
  • Develop new technical and professional skills and increase their knowledge of planning policy
  • Gain greater knowledge of the planning profession and how to position and market themselves for success
  • Learn how to navigate the complexities of the planning profession and how to interact with a variety of related stakeholders and professions.
  • Understand the resources available to increase their professional effectiveness.

Process: Interested, and eligible, potential mentors and mentees submit an online application to the PLAN Steering Committee. The application allows the Steering Committee to determine if the applicant is a good fit for the program and identify the best possible match between mentors and mentees. The application process has become highly competitive in the last several years and the program has gained recognition in the region.

Eligibility criteria for mentors: APA members working professionally in the planning field for over 10 years.

Eligibility criteria for mentees: APA members working professionally in the planning field for five years or less.

Need-based scholarships are also available to mentees on an as-needed basis. An application is provided for those interested in taking advantage of this opportunity.

Format: The nine-month program runs October through June. Mentors are assigned a primary mentee that they meet with one-on-one on a monthly basis. The timing and structure of these one-on-one meetings is decided jointly by the mentor/mentee pair.

The program consists of at least one monthly large group program (seven in total), occasional networking events, and a community service event with others in the program. Attendance is mandatory for all program activities.

The large group program generally occurs the fourth Wednesday of the month from 5:30–8 p.m. at varied locations. These group programs begin with a networking dinner and the remainder of the session focuses on a specific theme or activity.

The nine-month PLAN program also integrates participants with other Sac Valley Section and Sac Valley Section Young Planner Group (YPG) events, including the holiday party and the Section Awards Night program.

Group Session Topics:

  • Planning in Different Sectors
  • Tips for Your Professional Toolkit
  • Resume and Interview Workshop
  • Panning Into the Future
  • Mock City Council Meeting
  • Next Steps in Your Planning Profession

Mentor-mentee hosts are assigned to some of the group sessions and work with the Steering Committee to organize and host the event. The format for each group session varies depending on the topic and goal of the session. Many of the sessions require advance preparation by both mentors and mentees.

The timing and structure of the monthly one-on-one meetings between mentors and mentees is flexible and decided upon by the pair. A list of meeting format ideas and discussion topic examples are provided to the pairs at the beginning of the program.

The program also features goal setting activities and a StrengthsFinder activity so mentors and mentees can gain a stronger understanding of their strengths and how they can be utilized within the planning profession.

San Diego Section of APA California — Young Planners Group

The San Diego Section of the American Planning Association (SDAPA) accomplishes their mentoring mission through their Young Planners Group (YPG). The purpose of the YPG is to provide opportunities to learn more about planning and related fields, build successful careers, expand social and professional networks, and ultimately become leaders in the planning profession through the local San Diego Section.

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Overview: The program is in its eighth year and annually recognizes an outstanding mentor and mentee.

Unlike traditional one-on-one mentoring, the SDAPA YPG Mentorship Program creates a team environment with each group generally made up of:

One Senior-level Mentor (7+ years of experience); One Mid-level Mentor (2–7 years of experience); and 1–2 Mentees (students and YPG members with 0–1 year of experience).

The idea behind this is that there can be mentoring at all levels. The Mid-level mentors are still looking for guidance in their careers but can provide advice to the mentees. Whereas, the Senior-level Mentors can provide guidance to both the Mid-level Mentors and Mentees.

Process: Mentors and Mentees apply to the program and are separated into three categories:

  1. Senior-level Mentors
  2. Mid-level Mentors
  3. Mentees

The YPG Mentorship & Education Committee reviews the applications to ensure only qualified and dedicated candidates are accepted into the program. After applying, participants are required to attend the Kick-Off Matching Event, which is a speed networking event where Mentees and Mid-level Mentors get a chance to meet each Senior-level Mentor.

After the Kick-Off Matching Event, Mentees and Mid-level Mentors rank their top preferences. The YPG Mentorship & Education Committee uses this information combined with the information provided in their application (interests, geographic location preferences, and goals) to create mentorship teams composed of 3 to 5 members at different levels of career development.

Format: Six-month program beginning in January. The Kick-Off Matching Event is mandatory and each of the mentoring groups is expected to meet at least four times during the six-month period.

Teams are self-sufficient and encouraged to think of creative meeting ideas. The YPG Mentorship & Education Subcommittee provides support and encouragement through consistent communication to keep the groups on track to host the four meetings.

In addition to the individual team meetings, the YPG Mentorship & Education Committee coordinates two Plantivities (planning activities), a Mid-Cycle Social, and Milestone Celebration during the course of the program. There have been approximately 50 participants that are accepted into the program every year.

Content: The first meeting is the speed networking event and the main goals are to provide an overview of the program and provide an opportunity for the Mentees and Mid-level Mentors to meet the Senior-level Mentors. Once the groups are formed they plan their team meetings. The meetings can include networking events, case studies, job shadowing, or any activity that provides professional growth opportunities.

Notes: Tips on creating a compelling and successful mentoring program.

  • Review the applications thoroughly to ensure only dedicated and qualified candidates are accepted into the program.
  • Organize program-wide events to allow for networking opportunities with all participants.
  • Provide a guide to mentorship participants clearly detailing the goals of the program, overview of the team format, expectations, all program-wide events, and examples of team meeting ideas.
  • Maintain constant communication with the groups to ensure they are communicating and organizing team meetings.
  • Establish a dedicated committee to organize the program and plan events.

Florida Chapter

Mentor A Planning Student (MAPS)

MAPS is a mentoring program which pairs an experienced planner with a first-year planning student. The goal is to expose students to the actual work environments, responsibilities, and interactions of professional planning positions in Florida.

Florida Chapter's Mentor a Planning Student Guidebook

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Process: Mentor volunteers are sought through the section. The completed application is reviewed by the MAPS coordinators who makes the matches. MAPS program typically begins in October and culminates at the end of April. The structure for each mentoring experience is flexible but there are some minimum requirements that must be met. Each year, the MAPS programs are offered at Florida State University through the Capital Area Section and the University of South Florida through the APA Florida Sun Coast Section.

Format: Program is based around the universities with Masters in Planning programs. Mentors host students in a day at the office or a day in the field working on a project with a client/constituency and resume review by the mentor. Both mentors and students complete an evaluation on the mentoring experience. Mentors may or may not write a letter of recommendation for the student.

The MAPS program is for all USF students or emerging planners. A spring (mid-program) event is held for mentors & mentees; this session is designed to allow program participants to check in with one another, hear how the program is working for others, and re-invigorate participation at a mid-point in the program.

Content: MAPS mentors provide their student mentees with at least two shadowing experiences, resume review, and professional development counseling. No formal activities after first year, but participants encouraged to continue in an informal relationship if doing so seems fruitful to the mentor and student.

Notes: "It takes at least one dedicated volunteer or staff person to get the program off the ground. Try to make the program as flexible as possible so people don't feel it's overwhelming to participate."

Career Advancement for Mid-Level Planners (CAMPs)

(CAMPs) is a Florida Chapter mentoring program that matches mid-level professionals (those with at least five years of experience) to senior planning leadership in the community. Mentors and mentees are matched based on career goals, skill sets, and a simple questionnaire.

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Georgia Chapter

Traditional Mentoring

The Georgia Planning Association (GPA) is an official Chapter of the American Planning Association (APA). Over 900 member organization of professional planners and planning officials who serve Georgia's communities at all levels of government, the private sector, and not-for-profit organizations.

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Overview: Mentoring is offered through the Georgia Planning Association in collaboration with the Young Planners Group.

Process: Application through Survey Monkey with mentors and proteges matched by the Mentor Program Committee. GPA members at any stage of their career are encouraged to apply. Application process is open for one month beginning a week before the fall conference (date varies).

Format: Seven month program with four mandatory events to be completed between October through April. Senior mentors are grouped with planners from all levels into teams of three to four.

Participants also required to plan and attend two self-directed events as a mentor team and stay in regular contact with each another. Self-assessments or brief reading may be required. Attending the Fall and Spring conferences is encouraged, not required.

Content: Events are structured by the Mentor Program Committee as well as informal gatherings planned by individual mentor teams. It is suggested that the meeting is structured around one to two hour activities with an educational goal.

Notes: The GPA Mentor Program encourages mid-career planners to participate as both proteges and mentors. Mid-career and emerging professionals are required to pay a one-time fee of $75 to participate in the program. Budget money is allocated for the program.

"Be flexible, try it out for a year, ask for feedback after each event and evaluate at the end of the year."

Illinois Chapter

mentoring program

The Illinois Chapter strives to enhance your planning skills and knowledge through a number of activities and benefits including an annual statewide conference, section meetings, planning awards, professional development assistance, a newsletter, website, and more. The APA Illinois Mentoring Program is a way to connect APA Illinois young professionals and students with our network of experienced professional planners.

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Overview: Mentors and proteges are matched by the Mentoring Program Match Committee based on areas of interest and time/location preferences for a one-year commitment.

Process: There is a rolling application process that kicks off with the chapter meeting in February and supplemented through the year with email messaging. Most applicants are matched within the month they sign up after the "drive" in February.

Format: The formal program lasts for one year after a match is made. Ultimately, it's up to the mentor and protege pair to determine the best meeting and communication arrangement. To get the most out of the program, however, monthly communication is recommended. Meetings may range from informal coffees to invitations to professional networking events.

Content: It's recommended the mentoring pair set one or more goals early in the relationship that may be modified at any time. The protege is expected to articulate the goals he or she wishes to pursue in the first meeting; a good understanding of the desired goals is likely to lead to a more satisfactory relationship. With a well-defined goal, results can be accomplished in a shorter time. In many cases, more informal relationships continue well beyond the formal year in the Mentoring Program.

Notes: The program is set up to be a year-long commitment, but surveys indicate that few matches are using the program this way. Most connect once or twice and then the more "formal" structure ends. The chapter has started looking for more ways to get mentors and mentees together in less formal settings. For instance, sponsoring a small group lunch during the chapter conference worked very well. In the coming year they are exploring ways to work with the Chapter Diversity Committee. The program typically has more protege applications than available mentors; demand is always greater than supply.

Iowa Chapter

Mentor Match

The mission of the APA Iowa Chapter is to serve as a catalyst by developing creative organizational plans, strong leadership and professional planners within the organization, and effectuating recognition, policy and legislative action and advocacy, and outreach programs. A public relations and communications "umbrella" binds all our efforts together.

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Overview: The Mentor Match is held during the fall conference for a one-time meeting of the pair, the program is modeled after APA national.

Process: Mentors and proteges must be registered for the conference and are recruited to participate through registration materials. An email blast to all members and to area university planning programs are also used. Participants are required to register in advance and fill out a short questionnaire to describe their interests and experience. A small committee of the APA Iowa board matches the pairs and connects them via email in advance of the conference. We follow up with a brief survey after the conference to identify improvements to the program for the following year.

Format: One-time meeting scheduled during a session block at the fall conference. Some of the pairs choose to continue the relationship beyond the conference.

Content: Mentors and their proteges are each provided with information that includes practical details on meeting time and location as well as suggestions on topics and expected outcomes. Proteges are encouraged to think about goals and expectations. Many proteges ask for advice on applying for jobs, or look for more information on a particular specialty like transportation or environmental planning. Others want to learn about the difference between public sector and private sector positions.

Notes: "The mentor match program at an established event is an easy way to start. Send frequent communication in advance to attract both proteges and mentors."

Texas Chapter

Mentorship Communities

The Texas Chapter has nine regional sections. The Mission of the Texas Chapter of the APA is to advocate the profession of planning, providing expertise and processes that empower citizens to be engaged in the development and sustainability of Great Communities in Texas. Texas Emerging Planning Leaders (TxEPL) was created to enhance communication between emerging and experienced planning professionals; provide for professional advancement in the field by identifying employment opportunities and through targeted training and education; and support the advancement of the planning profession through leadership opportunities.

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Overview: The Chapter's Planning Mentorship Program participants are assigned into mentorship groups identified as "Communities." Communities typically have between 6-8 members with a diversity of experience levels including: students. Each community has a leader who initiates contact and assists in organizing activities and communicating with their Community. Leaders do not need a certain level of experience, but they must commit to facilitating the group for an entire year.

Process: Interested members complete an online application. The TxEPL uses the information to create the communities from preferences on location, specializations, job experiences, or alma maters. Communities are reformed each year to ensure active participation.

Format: Application process opens in October and the first meeting occurs in November at state conference. In December of the same year, TxEPL Committee forms new mentorship communities and identifies new community leaders. In January the new mentorship communities are initiated.

Content: Events are structured by the Community Leaders with participants expected to attend a minimum of four events per year and should be willing to communicate by email or phone with other Community members. In the past the group have done activities like: happy hours, dinners, lunches, office visits, project site visits, and phone calls. There have also been success stories of younger planners finding employment from connections they made in their mentorship community.

Notes: "Learning/mentoring is not a top-down situation but rather a 360-degree experience, where each member is expected to contribute and teach in some form or fashion." Texas Chapter sections have dedicated a portion of their budgets to mentorship related events.