Only about two in 10 college students report having a mentor who encourages them to succeed, according to a 2014 Gallup/Purdue University study.
In a recent article for Inside Higher Ed, four higher education leaders share insight on what good mentoring looks like and how to get more faculty involved. The leaders include Laura Behling, professor of English at Knox College, W. Brad Johnson, professor of psychology at the U.S. Naval Academy, Paul Miller, assistant provost for communications and operations and professor of exercise science at Elon University, and Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler, professor of psychology and director of the Center for Research on Global Engagement at Elon.
The four college faculty work together to lead the Seminar on Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research at Elon's Center for Engaged Learning. Attendees of the seminar include undergraduate research directors from colleges across the United States and other countries.
According to the seminar leaders, here are seven ways to improve the quality of faculty mentorships:
1: Define mentorship
Not every student-faculty project counts as mentorship, they write. They recommend outlining what good mentoring means for your institution and the expectations for mentors.
2: Train mentors
Occasional workshops won't make a substantial difference, the seminar leaders write. Instead, they suggest using a structured system to select and train mentors, including a faculty-faculty mentorship program, training on the variety of student developmental needs, and regular assessments of mentor effectiveness.
3: Support mentors
Faculty mentors can't succeed if they don't understand the goal or value of mentoring at your institution. The seminar leaders recommend providing faculty mentors with clear direction and adequate funding for both undergraduate research and ongoing mentor training.
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4: Show the value of mentorships
As noted above, faculty members need to see that campus leaders are making mentorship a priority. The seminar leaders recommend backing up mentorship programs with the resources and infrastructure they need to be successful. For example, they suggest creating a variety of different ways for faculty to get involved with mentoring.
5: Require excellence
Campus leaders must understand that every faculty member isn't going to make a good mentor, the seminar leaders write. The seminar leaders recommend helping faculty who are interested in becoming mentors balance their personal commitments with mentoring—or simply accept that they don't have the bandwidth to provide quality mentorship.
6: Reward excellence
Mentorship is such a "vital learning opportunity" for undergraduates, the seminar leaders argue, that academic leaders should formalize it in the criteria for tenure and promotion. The authors also encourage campus leaders to consider other, tangible ways to reward their most effective mentors.
7: Provide feedback
Another way to show faculty mentors that you value high-quality mentoring is to provide them with feedback on their effectiveness and give them opportunities to continue growing as mentors (Behling, Miller et al., Inside Higher Ed, 10/27).
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