Mentoring Effects on Women Students of Color in Universities

Effects of Quality Mentoring of Women Students of Color in Higher Education
By Corinne Dickey, The 1997 IMA Dissertations Award Winner!


Background to the Study

This dissertation research started with the position derived from current literature that mentoring is part of the important institutional dynamic of the social integration of students. Quality mentoring is not a panacea, but it should be viewed as an especially effective means of intervention in the academy’s attempt to meet the needs of culturally diverse students, and thereby graduate these students.

Mentoring is an attractive approach to meeting the needs of students who are most at risk of leaving the university before graduation. It can improve retention rates by addressing some of the causes of attrition among culturally diverse students. My dissertation research investigated mentoring processes that may be integral factors in effective strategies for increasing the successful recruitment and retention of women students of color.


Using case study methodology, this study investigated ways in which student / faculty / staff interactions were perceived and interpreted by students (protégés) and those faculty / staff who were in mentoring roles. The study put mentoring under the microscope and analyzed its effects.

This research focused on women and described mentoring in three different colleges at the University of Minnesota (one undergraduate and two graduate programs that are designed to recruit, retain, and graduate persons of color at the post-secondary level). The programs are different with respect both to level of mentoring and under-representation of minorities within the disciplines.

Case Study #1 – Master´s Degree Program for American Indians in Business Administration – Undergraduate Student Peer Mentoring

Program A (Case Study #1), a master´s degree program for American Indians in business administration, did not have a formalized mentoring program and, therefore, the women participants in Program A did not have faculty mentors. They correspondingly felt that faculty had no interest in getting to know them or learning about their American Indian culture.

To overcome these less than supportive conditions which flew in the face of crucial elements of their cultural
upbringing, the first two women who entered the program in 1990 combined as a team. All women participants in Program A were pretty much on their own, and any mentoring that occurred was peer mentoring, which they viewed as crucial to their progress and success in the program. Case Study #1 demonstrated that even where there was no formalized mentoring program in place, those individuals involved saw the need and filled that need to the degree they could through their own means (informal peer mentoring).

Case Study #2 – Undergraduate Program in Biological Sciences for Minorities & Women – Faculty mentoring for  undergrads

In Program B (Case Study #2), a 10-week undergraduate program in biological sciences for women and persons of color, mentoring is planned and students are paired with faculty in various science disciplines. It was found, however, that commitment to and degree of mentoring provided by faculty varied significantly. One end of the scale was described as having total commitment to mentoring. The other end of the scale was illustrated by faculty either delegating significant mentoring responsibilities (in both degree and type) to their laboratory graduate research assistants, or using the summer undergraduate students as little more than cheap labor.

Through in-depth interviews with both students and mentors, it was shown that mentors´ attitudes toward
mentoring varied from very committed, to feeling badly and actually declaring that they had not fulfilled their mentoring responsibilities.

Case Study #3 – African American Graduate Students – Faculty and student peer mentoring

At the time of the interviews, Program C, a graduate program in education for African Americans, did not have a formalized mentoring program, but various levels and types of mentoring were, in fact, employed by the women participants. The program coordinator was looked upon as a mentor, and the students practiced peer mentoring.


This dissertation research was intended to make several contributions to higher education.

  1. First, it may contribute to the development of university planning to improve the recruitment and retention of women students of color.
  2. The mentoring process can also help to expand an academic and social milieu where diversity is valued.
  3. Further, using this form of emphasis on interpersonal interaction, cooperative problem solving, and cross- cultural understanding, the institutionalization of mentoring can contribute to creation of a university setting in which diversity is not only valued, but expected.

Quality mentoring systematically addresses causes of student attrition and delayed graduation of culturally diverse students. All will benefit if mentoring relationships are facilitated and successful.


Dr. Dickey is the recipient of the first International Mentoring Association Award for Outstanding Research in Mentoring, which was presented to her at the IMA’s Tenth Anniversary “Diversity in Mentoring” conference, April 3-5, 1997 in Tempe, Arizona.