Sit back and take a few minutes to think about those in your life who have guided, inspired, encouraged, advised, and mentored you. They can be anyone - a professor, colleague, friend, family, etc. Reflect on how they have impacted your life, who you are, your career choices, your goals. Would anything be different in your life without them? This self-reflection brings me to the topic of today’s blog, the importance of mentorship and role modeling.
It is probable that your self- reflection agrees with current and prior research showing that educators should be involved in mentoring their students and be strong role models, as there are positive effects on students’ motivations and interests when they are mentored and are given knowledge about career opportunities (Barber et al., 2010; Huntoon & Lane, 2007). Mentors motivate and inspire their mentees by helping them visualize themselves as belonging to their field of study. Mentors help students gain the skills they need to be successful in their field and guidance in how to cope and break through barriers that may present themselves (e.g., due to stereotypes) (Hernandez et al., 2020).
Baber et al. (2010), discuss the importance of role modeling. Good role modeling can help students build skills, confidence, and can influence students career choices. This can be particularly relevant for higher education, as good mentors can help increase the number of majors in a department by getting students involved and excited about the program (Barber et al., 2010; Huntoon & Lane, 2007). In Barber et al (2010), students were quoted describing how grateful they were that their instructor and/or advisor encouraged them to do research and helped them increase their professional network by introducing them to experts in their chosen field. The students were appreciative that they and their mentors discussed classes and research, but also career goals and what would be expected of the students in their selected professions (Barber et al., 2010).
Forming a relationship with faculty members can help students create and take ownership of their educational and career goals, which are important factors in increasing students’ motivation and involvement in the classroom (Huntoon & Lane, 2007). From personal experience a question a student will ask me is, how will I use this information in my life? When mentors know their students’ goals and aspirations they can show and discuss with their mentees the relevancy of the material they are learning. Students’ motivation to learn and succeed will increase as they make connections with their classwork and their lives outside the classroom (Huntoon & Lane, 2007).
Different research has endeavored to uncover what makes a good mentor, whether the students are in secondary school (Batty et al., 1999) or graduate school (Lechuga, 2011), women in science (Hernandez et al., 2020) or pre-service teachers (Heeralal, 2014). There are consistent qualities that emerge for what makes a good mentor, including:
- Knowledgeable: mentors can help students make connections between theory and practice.
- Experienced: mentors have experience with the topic, issue, etc. that the student wishes to discuss.
- Interest: mentors show interest in students’ interest, even when their interests differ.
- Approachable: mentors are accessible and good listeners.
- Respectful: students are treated with respect, they do not feel belittled, or their dignity threatened.
- Inspiring: mentors are inspiring and encouraging but are not domineering or pushy.
- Flexible: students are given room to express themselves.
- Understanding: mentors acknowledges how students learn, students can have different levels of competency and transitions (schools, majors, etc.) can be taxing on a student.
As potential current and future mentors we can use the list above as a mentorship guide to support and encourage our students throughout their education. Also, in the end, many mentors learn from and find these relationships just as enriching as do their mentees.
Baber, L. D., Pifer, M. J., Colbeck, C., & Furman, T. (2010). Increasing diversity in the geosciences: Recruitment Programs and student self-efficacy. Journal of Geoscience Education, 58(1), 32–42. https://doi.org/10.5408/1.3544292
Batty, J., Rudduck, J., & Wilson, E. (1999). What makes a good mentor? who makes a good mentor? the views of Year 8 mentees. Educational Action Research, 7(3), 365–374. https://doi.org/10.1080/09650799900200099
Heeralal, P. J. (2014). Student teachers’ perspectives of qualities of good mentor teachers. The Anthropologist, 17(1), 243–249. https://doi.org/10.1080/09720073.2014.11891434
Hernandez, P. R., Adams, A. S., Barnes, R. T., Bloodhart, B., Burt, M., Clinton, S. M., Du, W., Henderson, H., Pollack, I., & Fischer, E. V. (2020). Inspiration, inoculation, and introductions are all critical to successful mentorship for undergraduate women pursuing Geoscience Careers. Communications Earth & Environment, 1(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43247-020-0005-y
Huntoon, J. E., & Lane, M. J. (2007). Diversity in the geosciences and successful strategies for increasing diversity. Journal of Geoscience Education, 55(6), 447–457. https://doi.org/10.5408/1089-9995-55.6.447
Lechuga, V. M. (2011). Faculty-graduate student mentoring relationships: Mentors’ perceived roles and responsibilities. Higher Education, 62(6), 757–771. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-011-9416-0