Compass

Mentoring Messages, Part One

Recently I have thought a lot about first-generation students and what they need to succeed at UW-Green Bay.  Mentoring plays a big part in student success.  A majority of UW-Green Bay students are first-generation students, and this group will continue to grow as the population of Green Bay continues to grow in diversity.  I structure this piece around two issues.  First, what is mentoring and what mentoring models are available?  Two, what messages are most memorable to first-generation students, and how can we use these messages to inform mentoring?

A mentor is ‘‘a person who looks after, advises, protects, and takes a special interest in another’s development’’ (Buell, 2004, p. 58).  From this perspective, faculty play an important one-on-one role with a student who, over a period of time, grows intellectually and socially.  Therefore faculty have special responsibility to help students grow through a developmental process that takes many years.  We need to get better at speaking the language of mentoring, and looking for ways to link people who mentor with those who need it.  To be fair, it is unrealistic to expect that we mentor every student that we meet, but it is quite possible that there are many students who need mentoring that never receive it.

Mentoring models are widely available, but here I rely on models from the Communication discipline.  Buell (2004) conducted an in-depth qualitative study of mentoring relationships between faculty and graduate students.  Although the study does not involve undergraduate students, the findings are highly applicable to UW-Green Bay students.  Four themes or models of mentoring emerged from the research.  The first was the Cloning Model where faculty guided and controlled the mentee’s direction.  The mentee is not encouraged to be creative or take an independent path, but instead to conform to the faculty members wishes.  The faculty interviewed for the study clearly saw this as an outdated model, yet they saw the appeal since it was seen as easier, and an easy way to directly or indirectly use faculty’s sources of power and control.  For example, telling students to complete assignments in a very specific way without the freedom to make choices (“I know the right answers, and you just need to believe me”).

The second and third models were the Nurturing and Friendship models.  With the Nurturing Model faculty guided mentees through a developmental path.  Mistakes can be made and learning could emerge, almost as if the mentor was a parent or guardian.  The emphasis is on the mentee, rather than the mentor.  The mentor is seen as empathic, understanding, and trusting.  Some faculty worried about long-term student dependency.  The third was the Friendship Model, which was conceptualized as more collaborative with give-and-take in equal amounts from mentor and mentee.  Reciprocity was the main feature of this model with less hierarchy, more sharing, and less task-orientation.  This model seemed particularly useful to women as a way to break down the lines of power as patriarchy and the gender-divide continues to be an issue in academia.

The final model was the Apprenticeship Model, which seemed to have elements of the other three, but in distinct ways.  Students suggested that with this model, more than the others, mentors were showing mentees the “tools of the trade” with an emphasis on a professional working relationship, such as when mentees work in research assistantships, internships or service learning opportunities.  While students seemed to prefer the Nurturing and Friendship Models, many saw how common Cloning was communicated through intended or unintended messages of intimidation and control.

 

Look for part 2 of this blog next week when Garcia will discuss how mentors can use memorable messages to make impact mentees’ lives.

References:

Buell, C. (2004). Models of Mentoring in Communication.  Communication Education53(1), 56-73.

Wang, T. R. (2012). Understanding the memorable messages first-generation college students receive from on-campus mentors.  Communication Education61(4), 335-357.

Mike CrumAdolfo Garcia,
Associate Professor,
Communications

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