Report on “Pop Up” University Nursing Student Peer Mentoring

This study of peer mentoring in student nursing used a method that is classified as a descriptive-interpretive approach. Translated roughly that means, “here is what we did, what we think the experience means, and what we believe was of importance.”   The editor calls programs like this the “intuitive” approach, since they are largely based on common sense.We mention this because, when one is looking for best practice guidance, the descriptive-interpretive approach is not one of the better research methods to find such guidance. So, why is it presented here?

1.The originally offered program does not appear to be as  “intuitive” as what it evolved into. The original program design suggests developers did their homework. Although not what we might call a “comprehensive system”, the program has several components which are very good practice generally, notably:

  1. New student orientation  (a critical component in successful student transitions)
  2. Student peer mentors (one well-known model that has been shown to work well.)
  3. Faculty advisors (another key element in a university support program. Such faculty involvement can have several valued effects on students, faculty, and instruction.)
  4. All there were planned and integrated in their conduct (very critical if benefits are expected!)

2. The program evolved during implementation when students asserted their opinions over those of the training they received and the formal program design developed by the faculty program leaders. That IS an interesting process and it offers some lessons worth learning.

3. The “pop up” mentoring model that resulted from this transition is somewhat unique and so, it is interesting to discuss.

4. Although not a basis for major program design decisions, what participants and program leaders found “works” and didn’t “work’ is interesting to consider, especially in light of other more solid research methods and findings.


Penman, J., & White, F. (2006). Peer mentoring program pop-up model for regional nursing students. Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice, 3(2), 124-135.


In late 2003, the Nursing and Rural Health Department at a regional campus of the University of South Australia started a comprehensive student support program aimed at assisting the transition of new students to university life. This was done in response to challenges reported locally by their students and the literature on first year student success, attrition, and retention at other universities. The system of support included:

  • Orientation activities (called ‘First Connection’) to introduce new students to the university, its key people, and student support resources
  • Employment of learning advisers to work very closely with students to enhance their academic skills; and encouraging use of learning technology.
  • A peer-mentoring program in which second- and third-year nursing students acted as mentors to support first year students.

This paper reports on the peer-mentoring program and the evaluation and extent of it’s impact.

The Pilot Program Features

1. The goals of the pilot program – The primary goals of the pilot program were to

  • Facilitate a smooth settlement of first year nursing students into university life
  • Help participating first year nursing students to perform well academically.

2. Peer Mentor Program Leadership – Two staff members developed and implemented the program and were designated as program coordinators. Thier roles were to facilitate development of “smooth harmonious relations between the student” participants and provide “adequate” support for the mentors.

3. Peer Mentor Selection – The coordinators sent letters inviting the on-campus Whyalla second-year and third-year students to participate in the program as mentors. Mentor volunteers were generally mature, active in both academic and extra-curricular activities, and were passing all courses. Those who expressed interest in becoming mentors were invited to the mentor “induction” training.

4. Mentee Selection – The mentees were recruited via an e-mail explaining the program and encouraging their participation. This was reinforced by some mentors meeting face to face with all the new students during orientation week.

5. Peer Mentor Training – There were 16 mentors trained.

Training was delivered over two days.

Training methods included presentations, group work, scenarios, role-plays, open discussion, peer-teaching, reflection. goal setting, and advisory and academic facilitation skills.

Each student peer mentor was given apeer-mentoring manual of guidelines (See Editor’s notes).

Training Topics Included:

  • The roles of the mentee and mentor, including being a co-learner, coach, resource facilitator, and facilitator of mentee growth. Mentors were instructed to facilitate learning and critical thinking by mentees by providing options instead of specific answers to problems.
  • The code of practice to help the relationship work effectively. These included a need for shared and clear goals and agreement about how best to achieve them.
  • The need for confidentiality within the mentor-mentee relationship
  • How to facilitate academic growth and how to access learning skills resources of the University.
  • How to handle any mentees’ issues about staff or mentors.
  • Stress and time management strategies.

6. Program Participation – The peer mentoring program was available to all second and third year students who agreed to be a mentor. There were about 80 students who signed up as mentees. There were 16 mentors trained. More second-year student mentors were involved than third-year student mentors.

7. Mentor-Mentee Meetings – The first meeting of mentees and mentors was crucial and this occurred during First Connection week when new students were being orientated to the University. The mentors introduced themselves and the program and encouraged students to participate. They explained the guidelines for mentor-mentee meetings.

The Evolution of the Program

During the initial implementation of the program pilot, most of the students quickly stated that the initial design of the program was not suitable to their schedules and needs, and that different, morr flexible, student-driven, and informal model was needed. As student leadership emerged, so the revisions to the program also emerged.

  1. The initial group mentoring plan was changed to individual, one-on-one mentoring
  2. Instead of face-to-face encounters in student common / lobby/ lounge areas, students met in different spaces and places as needed and convenient, including
    by phone or email.
  3. Mentors suggested days and times for meetings with their mentoring group.
  4. Instead of a focus on support for learning the nursing curriculum in general, some mentors only provided help on specific topics or area/s of interest based on the strengths of each mentor, such as web-based research or essay writing.
  5. Instead of preassigned mentor-mentee relationships, the mentees were informed
    about the strengths of each mentor and were guided as to how to contact the appropriate mentors.
  6. Instead of the original plan for group mentoring, now a mentee could have one or more mentors as they felt the need.
  7. Instead of a planned group mentor-mentee meeting time, the meeting schedule was initiated and maintained primarily by the mentee.
  8. Instead of the originally planned contacts on a regular weekly basis, the frequency of meetings gradually tapering off as the semester progressed. When
    specific issues like quarterly or term finals arose or other individual issues became a concern the mentees sometimes would initiate the mentoring relationship again for further assistance.

These developments led program leaders to describe the new informal type of mentoring as a “pop-up” model of mentoring where the relationship between the mentee and mentor existed in the background, surfacing intermittently for short periods and for specific purposes when mentees felt expecially challenged and in need of support.

The program ended at the end of the academic year. Mentees and mentors decided for themselves whether their relationship would continue. Due to the very informal, pop up nature of the program, it is unknown how many did continue.

The Study Method

The researchers used a descriptive-interpretative approach to evaluate the program. Their study examined a peer mentoring program run in the Student Nursing Program at Whyalla, a regional campus of the University of South Australia.At the end of the pilot year, a program evaluation was conducted.

Collecting the Data – Program leaders used three data collection methods.

  1. A seven item pair of questionnaires (mentor and mentee versions)
    1. Recruitment of students to participate in the evaluation was done via email. All mentees and mentors were asked to complete the evaluation of the program.
    2. Students were informed of the purpose of the evaluation and provided
      instructions on how to participate.
    3. The program leaders developed instruments which asked the same set of
      questions of mentors and mentees to allow comparisons of responses.
    4. The respondents were emailed a copy of the questions and asked to respond in a timely manner.
    5. Only 8 mentees and 10 mentors responded to the survey.
  2. Mentors were asked to participate in an exit interview.
  3. Anecdotal accounts from faculty and students were also sources of data.

The responses were all analyzed based on content.


The following results were for three of the seven questions in the questionnaires and interviews. These three were selected for inclusion in this report as they reflected the most frequent answers.

1. What were the positive experiences in participating in the program? Helped prepare for ‘reality’Reduced fears

Maintained motivation

Overcame learning difficulties

Learnt how to do things

Opportunity for sharing knowledge and skillsDevelopment of teaching and mentoring skills

Increase self-knowledge

2. What were the negative experiences in participating in the program? No negative experiencesNo reply to request for support
Difficulty with personality of a mentor
No negative experiencesNot being approached for assistance during the study periods

No response to mentor initiatives

3. How did the program benefit you? Encouraging to have people available to helpAppreciated being told early about the realities and demands of study and
the amount of involvement required for each course

Improved academic performance

Enhanced knowledge

Improved confidence

Valued knowing about successful learning strategies

Reduced feelings of isolation and self-doubt

Saw things from another person’s perspectiveSatisfaction of knowing that I am helping other people

Enhancement of my own self-development

Other Findings

1. The Nature of Mentor – Mentee “Pop Up” Meetings – The “pop-up” model provided meetings between mentees and mentors that were private, informal, convenient, relaxed, and without distraction from other students, such as would have been the case with the original group mentoring that was planned. No meetings or mentoring sessions were required. There were no formal rules except that strict confidentiality and mutual respect were to be observed.

2. The Nature of the “Pop Up” Mentor- Mentee Relationships – The relationships evolved into a “just in time”, “as needed’ quality. This led to relationships that were more superficial than expected but which were very practical.

3. The Focus of the “Pop Up” Mentor- Mentee Conversations – The “pop up” relationships lacked continuity and deeper commitment, so they did not develop deeper engagements between students. This typically meant that discussion did not address career goal setting, development of a variety of skills, educational needs and future directions, and personal reflections on their relationships. The focus was consistently on learning needed content
or a specific needed skill.

4. The Benefits for “Pop Up” Mentors – The mentors were pleasantly surprised at the personal benefits they gained and insights or learning they experienced from being in the mentor role.

5. General Program Value – The program leaders determined:

A. That the value of the program became clearer as the program evolved. They desribed the value as “enhancing personal and professional growth for both parties”.

B. The program was been successful in creating a climate conducive to shared learning.

C. Mentoring of at-risk students improved their motivation and chances for academic improvement.

Editor’s Notes –

1. A related paper from the smae author offers more insights on the specifics
of this peer mentoring program

Oliver, M., White, F. and Penman, J. (2004). Peer-Mentoring Program: Guidelines.
Nursing and Rural Health, University of South Australia, Whyalla Campus

2. The original goals of this program were to:

• Facilitate a smooth settlement of first year nursing students into
university life

• Help participating first year nursing students to perform well

It appears from the report that the first goal was perceived to have been
facilitated, although the extent of goal attainment was never addressed.

It also appears that the second goal was not a part of the evaluation plan,
as data for that were not collected, or at least not reported.

3. Sustaining a mentoring program – It is our perception that the
university administration and other faculty would support the program that targeted
these two goals, but that such support would evaporate for the “pop up”
informality where goal attainment becomes less a focus or assured.

4. Flexibility is essential during any program implementation. However,
developing and implementing a mentoring program without tapping the experiences
captured in the mentoring knowledge base of best practices can lead program
leaders to make changes in response to problems, never deal with the problems
as a result, and risk noit addressing the very issues which can lead to the
greatest learning and development of participants.

Our concern for the evolution of this problem is that these may be the net
result of switching from a formal program to a “pop up” program
that works only when participants want to do it. A. There is strong evidence
that newer persons to a setting may not “know what they don’t know”.
This is especially true with younger, less experienced persons. When such is
the case, mentoring by a more experienced person becomes all the more critical,
and deferring to that person’s experience, all the more essential, if
one is to avoid trial and error learning.

B. For students new to the university setting with all the challenges of academics
versus the fun and freedom of the experience, the time for mentoring may only
come infrequently, and perhaps, as with many learning challenges, too late for
much of an effective response. If university students could always make effective
choices, such mentoring programs might not be as needed.