Mentoring programs at the college level aim to engage students, improve graduation rates and increase student achievement. Emotional support, including mentoring, follows students beyond graduation day, making them engaged employees with a solid sense of well-being.
With such outstanding long-lasting benefits, why are so many institutions still coming up short in mentoring college students? It could be due to a lack of these five key ingredients that take a mentoring program from average to awesome.
1. A Driving Force
Having a driving force behind the mentorship program is essential to its success. This force, typically an outspoken individual or board, must fully believe in the mission of the program and keep that vision in mind as the program develops. Clear leadership helps create a cohesive, effective program, and it gets others excited to participate. The program’s leadership has the power to influence how mentors and students feel about it. The leadership establishes the values of the program and provides the commitment needed to make the program work.
To find the driving force that enables your program to succeed, unifying multiple departments is essential. A partnership between the student services department, college leadership and faculty creates a solid foundation for mentorship at your institution.
2. Buy-In From Mentors and Students
While a dedicated individual or board driving the program is important, you need buy-in from all participants to truly succeed. Mentors who aren’t excited about the program or don’t believe it works are easy to spot and render the program ineffective. Students aren’t engaged when they feel like mentors are simply going through the motions or meeting with them because it’s a requirement.
Look for mentors who genuinely want to help students succeed. Many colleges use their own faculty members, from general staff all the way up to the college president, as mentors. Another valuable resource for finding mentors is the alumni association. Alumni understand what it’s like to be a student at your particular college. They often have success stories that may motivate your students. Alumni can also help students start networking before they graduate.
Getting mentors behind the program starts with having clear objectives and projected outcomes. Make the benefits of the program clear for all participants. Training mentors is another important part of getting everyone on board. Such training ensures the mentors have the tools they need to support their mentees effectively.
3. Compatible Matches
A mentor supports the student toward exploring potential career pathways while developing as a student and individual. Mentors nurture students to help them succeed in college and beyond. To achieve that goal, the mentor and mentee need a comfortable, supportive relationship. If the mentor is not supportive or has completely different values and ideas of what the student should do, the partnership lacks effectiveness.
When you start a student-wide mentoring program, matching up participants based on individual personalities and goals is nearly impossible. Surveying individuals and finding compatible matches is much too time-consuming on such a large scale. However, having the option to switch to a new mentor after the program begins can solve the problem of conflicting personalities. If either the student or the mentor feels the match isn’t quite right, it’s important to have a plan to find a mentor who is better suited to supporting and nurturing that student.
4. Interaction Guidelines
The mentor-mentee relationship revolves around its informal nature and the ability of the participants to tailor the interactions to suit their needs. However, it’s still important to have certain expectations to make the program effective. These ground rules are particularly important at the beginning of the relationship, when mentors need to establish a connection with their students.
Start by setting an initial contact date deadline. For instance, all mentors must reach out to their mentees before the first day of classes. Establish a minimum number of meetings and the length of the relationship. You might assign mentors for the academic year, or the relationship may continue through graduation with pairs meeting at least once per month.
It’s also important to set boundaries and do’s and don’ts to avoid conflict of interest. Mentors generally provide guidance but don’t actually play a role in disputes over grades or disciplinary action, for example. The relationship is more informal and supportive than that of the student’s adviser or other official college faculty roles.
Many mentoring programs use the same basic steps for implementation with wildly different results. By evaluating and continuously monitoring your college mentoring program, you discover what works well at your facility and where you need to put in a little more work.
An easy way to evaluate the program on an ongoing basis is through surveying the participants, which includes both the mentors and the mentees. This gives you both perspectives and allows you to get a better overall picture of the program. Get feedback on what participants like, what they find valuable, how the program is helping them and what they would like to see change about the program. If you notice a potential for improvement in the program, don’t wait for feedback. Mentoring college students is an evolving, dynamic process that benefits from little tweaks.
Creating a program with enthusiastic leadership and engaged participants is essential to success. An awesome mentorship program provides your students with the emotional support that can propel them to success as they enter the workforce.