Higher Education Student Peer Mentoring in Indianapolis

The Maturation of Leaders: Higher Education Student Peer Mentoring in Indianapolis

By Jasper Sumner II, Senior Mentor Program Consultant.


Creating More Benefits Than a Typical Mentoring Program

One “lens” through which mentoring programs are typically viewed is that of evaluating the program for how effective it is in producing growth in the mentee. Often overlooked in such an evaluation may be the dynamic growth and personal enhancement that mentors can also experience. Such a dual focus has become deeply engrained within the rich experience and heritage of the Mentoring Program which is Housed at the University College Learner Center.

Program Description

Based at the Indiana University and Purdue University joint Indianapolis campus, the Mentor Program has learned to overcome the typical and challenging dichotomy in the relationship between mentor and mentee, and instead, to develop and support mentoring experiences which benefit both participants. This student-focused and student-run Mentoring Program provides supplemental instruction and support to ensure the success of challenged students.

The Unique Responsibilities of the Student Mentors

The program consists of mentors attending class sessions with their student mentees, taking notes, reading all assigned material, and conducting two or more discussion group-style collaborative learning sessions weekly. This process allows the mentors to model effective student learning behaviors for their mentees and it ensures that the mentors also know the content and skills the mentees need to develop and are well able to assist them in learning it.

The Challenges of Effective Mentoring

The most important responsibility of a mentor is to insure the development of the mentee. However, even for people with considerable professional and relational skills, this can often become a significant challenge. In the process of developing the sort of relationship conducive to a mentee’s growth and development, the mentor witnesses the struggles of their students, struggles that mentors may not comprehend at the outset.

Supporting Growth For the Mentor Too

Whether a crisis is personal or professional, our natural inclination is to address such struggles with strategies that are inherently strong within us and with which we are comfortable. However, such strategies which have been effective for the mentor may not always work well for the mentee. When that happens, the immense support provided collectively by the mentoring team encourages mentors to take risks and thus, improve themselves by stepping outside their comfort zones to discover new strategies and
develop new strengths within themselves.

Later in their relationship, as the mentor aids their students in addressing and resolving conflicts, mentors gain increased awareness and understanding of the developmental process mentees must navigate, and mentors develop confidence in how to better handle a similar issue in the future.

Ultimately, as mentors work to attain the Mentor Program’s mission of facilitating students’ adaptation to college life academically, socially, personally, and institutionally, mentors also increase their own growth and development as a student, a professional, and a human being. It is this unintended benefit of mentoring which makes the mentoring experience the most important of social endeavors for both mentor and mentees, a realization that the University College Learning Center discovered and began to more
intentionally develop and celebrate some time ago.

An Example of Mentoring As Leadership Development

The true measure of mentoring is its social impact resulting in the upward mobility exhibited by its participants. An example of this is Nancy Oldham, who was originally a non-traditional returning student and Program participant as a mentee, and is now one of the Program’s Senior Consultants. According to Ms. Oldham, “Work with my mentor helped me overcome my initial fears concerning academic challenges and eventually, I gained greater confidence in myself and greater self-awareness.”

Attendance in mentoring sessions launched a series of events for Nancy, each building on the successes of the previous, which led her to realize that she was indeed capable of accomplishments she once doubted. In fact, she was so bold as to say, “Had I not become involved in the mentoring experience, I might have quit or transferred because I had no connections to the campus previously, and so I had no support network.”

Ultimately, her success as a student, as a result of mentoring, led her to reciprocate by becoming a mentor herself. Finally, what she learned as a mentor gave her the skills, insights, and confidence to assume program administrative responsibilities, where she grew further in professional areas such as time management and organizational skills.

Why Mentor Leadership Development Occurs

Many other such leadership development success stories have occurrred. As a result of the continuous journaling, reflecting, and planning involved in the process of learning and fulfilling the role of a mentor, mentors are afforded the opportunity to actually observe how their research and planning unfolds in practice. Since mentors engage in a process of continual reflection on their effectiveness, they are in a
constant state of reinventing what they are doing and of becoming more open to criticism, and more skilled personally and professionally.

Unfortunately, it is often the case in the traditional workplace, that we struggle
to increase our skills and effectiveness and to alter how others perceive us
because we have insufficient collegial support. The Mentoring Program environment
develops the new norm of giving and receiving feedback, which allows participants
to enhance themselves as individuals, as team members, and as the service providers
for the students as well. Perhaps the greatest attribute gleaned from the mentoring
experience is the increased ability to empathize with others from a diversity
of backgrounds other than our own.