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Mentoring College Students – What Makes Mentoring Relationships Work

October 5, 2010

There is a rich literature on the nature of mentoring relationships for youth, but less understanding on how mentoring relationships function as young people develop into late adolescence and early adulthood. A better understanding of mentoring relationships for this age group is critical to programs aimed at drop out prevention, transition into adulthood, and college undergraduates. This is the subject of an article in New Directions for Youth Development (summer, 2010) by Simon Larose, and his colleagues at the Département d’études sur l’enseignement et l’apprentissage of the Faculté des sciences de l’éducation at Université Laval in Quebec.

Those familiar with youth-mentoring literature know that much of the discussion hinges on finding the right balance between so-called “developmental (unstructured, involving social supports and fun activities)” vs. “instrumental (structured and involving educational, professional and learning activities)” approaches. The youth mentoring field has tended to favor the developmental approach, although current research views this as somewhat of a simplification, and supports a blending of approaches.

What isn’t clear is whether this framework is even applicable to older adolescents and young adults.  Compared with youth mentoring, where the qualities promoting friendship might be paramount, it is easy to wonder whether college students would benefit from a more goal directed, focused and structured approach to help them achieve their specific academic and career goals. LaRose et. al., examine such interesting questions as whether it is important for college mentoring matches to engage in social activities? Is mentoring the appropriate venue to resolve mentees’ personal as well as academic problems? When targeting mentees at risk of academic failure, is a more “prescriptive” approach indicated?

The authors discuss the MIRES program which seeks to prevent college freshman from dropping out of science programs.  The authors found that matches that participated in structured, meaningful activities were more effective than matches that focused exclusively on problem solving or open discussion. Mentors who expressed some “directivity coupled with high emotional involvement and reciprocity” were more likely to connect with their mentees and improve their academic adjustment. In contrast to the literature on mentoring children and young teens, this would favor a balance tipped toward the instrumental, rather than developmental, end of the scale. The authors feel that for older adolescents “what is meaningful may actually be interactions with a conventional purpose, such as future academic success, rather than those that are playful.” It is easy to imagine how mentees would benefit from acquiring the specific tools and advice they need to negotiate the science-career ladder. The authors stress, however, that mentoring relationships continue to benefit from reciprocity, responsiveness to mentee’ needs and the facilitation of the developmental needs of mentees, in particular autonomy. Mentees needs must to come first, it is just that, in young adulthood, a relatively more directive approach may best meet those needs.

–The Structure of effective academic mentoring in late adolescence. LaRose, S., Cyreene, D., Garceau, O., Brodeur, P., Tarabulsy, GM, New Directions for Youth Development: Theory Practice, Research, (summer 2010) Jossey-Bass publisher.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 31, 2011 8:29 pm

    “There is a rich literature on the nature of mentoring relationships for youth, but less understanding on how mentoring relationships function as young people develop into late adolescence and early adulthood. A better understanding of mentoring relationships for this age group is critical to programs aimed at drop out prevention, transition into adulthood, and college undergraduates.”

    This is exactly right. More emphasis should be put on this!

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