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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Faculty Mentoring Undergraduates: The Nature, Development, and Benefits of Mentoring Relationships | Faculty Focus

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt of a work that is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. To read the article in its entirety, visit the Teaching & Learning Inquiry website.

Reference: McKinsey, E. (2016). Faculty Mentoring Undergraduates: The Nature, Development, and Benefits of Mentoring Relationships. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 4(1), 1-15. doi: 

Photo: Elizabeth McKinsey
Elizabeth McKinsey, teaches in both English and American Studies reports, "Educational research shows that close student-faculty interaction is a key factor in college student learning and success. Most literature on undergraduate mentoring, however, focuses on planned programs of mentoring for targeted groups of students by non-faculty professionals or student peers."

Photo: Faculty Focus

Based on the research literature and student and faculty testimony from a residential liberal arts college, this article shows that unplanned “natural” mentoring can be crucial to student learning and development and illustrates some best practices. It advances understanding of faculty mentoring by differentiating it from teaching, characterizing several functional types of mentoring, and identifying the phases through which a mentoring relationship develops. Arguing that benefits to students, faculty, and institutions outweigh the risks and costs of mentoring, it is written for faculty who want to be better mentors and provides evidence that administrators should value and reward mentoring.

Phases of establishing a mentoring relationship
Every mentoring relationship, no matter at what stage of a student’s progress through college, goes through two or three key phases of development. The most basic step is connection.

Most contemporary students want closer interaction with faculty. They praise a professor who “gets to know everyone in his classes. I was very impressed by how much personal interest he took in his students. He always knew how everyone was doing in the class. He really wanted everyone to do well and went far out of his way to help students that came to him. He cared about his students.” Such appreciation for faculty who “take the time to get to know their students, not just to teach them” is a recurrent theme in the most positive student evaluations.

Connection is encouraged when faculty are available and accessible to talk outside of class. This means holding enough office hours so that conversations can be more than cursory, but it also requires approachability, making students feel invited and welcome when they do come. Students appreciated one professor for holding occasional office hours in a local coffee house on Saturday mornings, for, as one said, “To meet outside [the academic building] lent those meetings more of an aspect of collaboration and discussion, instead of something official or dictated.” Students interpret such faculty efforts as evidence that faculty care about them as people, not just as students. On faculty evaluation forms, students often list “accessibility” or “availability” as a criterion for faculty effectiveness.

Sometimes the Tenure and Promotion Committee has worried that this may signify that the professor encourages dependence or “coddles” students. But understood in context, such student emphasis on faculty accessibility is a corollary to students’ academic engagement and is clearly a sign they are hungry to interact with faculty, eager to know them and be known by them, to establish a connection—a relationship that can open the way to mentoring.
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Source: Faculty Focus