Research in Student Preferences for Matching, Characteristics, and Roles of Peer Mentors

Gonzalez, J. and Ezell, J. (2010) Mentoring First Generation College Students Pilot Study. Academic Advising Today, National Academic Advising Association (NACADA).  Retrieved Jan. 21, 2011 at www.depts.ttu.edu/advising/pegasus/documents/NACADA.

INDEX


Editor’s Note

This is an interesting report to read and it is a terrific example of why pilot studies are needed before full program implementation. Many, many programs are designed based on the “intuition” and logic of the planners. The pilot should function to test those assumptions for validity to better inform program planning before it becomes fully implemented. For more on pilot programs click here.

The subject report is interesting as an illustration of this very process.

  • In the beginning the authors state a belief that protégés will prefer to be matched to mentors whose personal characteristics (gender, race, etc.) are similar to their own.
  • Next they comment that they find little research to support this belief.
  • Rather than causing them to question their belief, they are motivated to undertake the subject research to find out if their belief isn’t true.
  • In the end, their own data forces them to change their belief.

The Program

The PEGASUS Program is a student peer mentoring, advising and support services program that serves first year, First Generation College students at Texas Tech University. Pegasus is a special horse with wings in Greek mythology. The image reflects the belief that the program supports students so they too may “fly”.

The program consists of orientation, peer mentoring, student advisement by staff, and several other support components. The peer mentoring is the focus of this study since that element was being piloted.


The Problems

The authors characterize mentoring as taking either one of two approaches:

  • The traditional model, which occurs when a more experienced or older person acts as a role model, challenger, guide, and/or advocate for a younger or less experienced person. This type they characterize as more task-oriented and career or job-focused.
  • The relational model, which is when the mentoring partners enter the relationship for mutual, reciprocal benefits, and when it is characterized by comfort in the expression of feelings, empathy, and development of a more close and personal relationship.

They assert that the relational dimension of mentoring has not been well examined and they believe it should be more the focus of mentoring efforts. (See ed. note #1 at the bottom.)


Review of the Mentoring Literature

Issues of concern found in the authors’ search of the mentoring literature include finding good mentors -protégé matches, especially regarding gender and ethnicity (see ed. #2) and the importance of effective training for mentors. They are also concerned that the functions of a mentor are not well defined (ed. #3).

The authors state that most studies of mentoring minority and/or First Generation College (FGC)(ed. #4) students are focused on issues of retention and graduation rather than on the students’ perceptions of the benefits of mentoring (see ed. note #5). They suggest that the lack of matching research in the literature deprives mentoring programs of best practice guidance, and that this may result in a matching process that may be missing key elements of value to mentees. This concern leads the authors to the goals of the pilot study


The Pilot Program Study

Hypotheses – The study will test three hypotheses:

  1. Students will prefer the more relational model of mentoring versus the more
    traditional model of mentoring.
  2. Students will prefer to be matched to a mentor of the same gender and race as themselves.
  3. Students will prefer to be matched to a mentor with the same academic major as themselves.

1. The study will collect data to determine whether students prefer to have the same sex, race, or college major for their assigned mentors.

2. The study will collect data from FGC students who have received peer mentoring as to what they perceive are important characteristics and roles of mentors.

3. Study data will be analyzed and used in the program to form a set of best practices for hiring, training and matching mentors with the protégés.

4. These best practices will be used in the Pegasus Program for pairing FGC students with effective mentors.

5. These best practices can be used within many mentoring programs that assist new employees and/or students with transition.

6. Finally, as a pilot program study, the results will inform revisions to the program design for full implementation next year.

Participants in this study included 36 volunteer FGC freshmen and sophomore students who were active members of the Pegasus Program during the fall 2009 and spring 2010 semesters. During that academic year, participants experienced a peer student team mentoring model that assigned two mentors per team of 10-12 FGC students. Mentors were successful upper-class FGC TTU students who have received mentoring training.

Method

The survey instrument used in this study was composed of 12 questions of varying format. The tool was validated by a review of a panel of colleagues who all hold at least a Master’s degrees in various disciplines and who worked with student support programs. The survey was given to all program participants, data were collected and analyzed according to the goals of the study.


Results

1. Participants

  • An equal number of females and males participated in this study.
  • Participants’ demographics were
    • Hispanic / Latino: 64%
    • White 28%
    • Black 8%.

2. Matching Preferences

  • Gender – 83% of both male and female participants indicated that they had no preference regarding the gender of their mentor.
  • Race
    • 86% percent of the participants reported that they had no preference
    • 8% percent preferred a mentor of the same race
    • 6% reported that they preferred a mentor of a different race.

3. Academic Major

  • For 33% it was moderately important for their mentor to have the same academic
    major as themselves.
  • 31% said it was slightly important for their mentor to have the same major as themselves >28% said it was not at all important that their mentor have the same major.

4. Desired Qualities and Roles of Mentors

DESIRED MENTOR ROLES – The three most important were:
FACTOR
VARIABLE
TOP CHOICE
SECOND CHOICE
THIRD CHOICE
Gender
Male:
friend
resource
guide
Female:
resource
friend
guide
Race
Hispanic / Latino:
friend
guide
resource
Black / African American:
resource
friend
supporter
White:
friend
resource
guide / supporter (same #)
DESIRED MENTOR QUALITIES – The three most important were:
FACTOR
VARIABLE
TOP CHOICE
SECOND CHOICE
THIRD CHOICE
Gender
Male:
encouraging
accessible
leader
Female:
encouraging
personable
leader / accessible (same #)
Race
Hispanic / Latino
encouraging
accessible
leader
Black / African American:
encouraging
leader
academically successful
White
encouraging
personable
accessible

Conclusions

The study was designed to test three hypotheses:

  • A. Students will prefer the more relational model of mentoring versus the more traditional model of mentoring.
    • The data suggest that the relational model of mentoring is favored when compared to the more traditional model of mentoring. This is evidenced by the fact that the number one role of a mentor was “friend”.
  • B. Students will prefer to be matched to a mentor of the same gender and race as themselves.
    • This study did not produce results that would indicate these were factors.
  • C. Students will prefer to be matched to a mentor with the same academic major as themselves.
    • A mentor’s academic major seemed to be an important factor. 64% rated this matching factor at some level of importance.

The TTU PEGASUS program will use this data to restructure how we place mentees on teams this year with mentors, giving first preference to those who have the same majors or are in the same colleges as their mentor team leaders.

Important factors in a mentoring relationship are that mentors be “encouraging”, “accessible”, and a “leader”. These qualities will be used for mentor selection and a training design will be provided to assist the mentors of the TTU PEGASUS program with their professional growth to further develop these qualities.


Editor’s Notes

#1 – We believe a more thorough review of the literature would reveal that the most often framing of the mentoring relationship, roles and tasks, argues for an appropriate balance of task and relationship-orientations. In fact, our own model of Mentoring Styles, which is shared elsewhere on this web site, defines the need for a mentor to shift the emphasis between task and relationship in a fairly flexible way to better meet the developmental needs of the protégé.

Thus, early in mentoring is a more directing, more task-oriented style is appropriate because the earliest things a protégé needs to learn require the sharing of procedures, expectations, etc. all of which are “one right way” kinds of information – information that the mentor’s experience can provide and which provision saves the protégé needless trial
and error learning. There usually is little or no time this early for them to step out of the setting and get to know each other and build their relationship. It has to grow through their work together on the tasks that confront the protégé. This is exactly why we recommend that at the first mentor-protege meeting they reach a formal “mentoring agreement” that includes confidentiality. It’s needed then because there is no trust as of yet. The confidentiality is not so needed later when the relationship based on trust has been built.

However, after a while the protégé knows most of this kind of information and the need and mentoring should shift to a more balanced (task and relationship) collaborative style. Toward the end of the mentoring relationship, the balance should shift again to be nearly all on relational methods (encouragement, support, etc.) since the protégé knows by this time all the needed tasks and how and when to do them. To avoid a dependency, the mentor purposely steps back from the task focus. Finally, the mentor assumes a delegating style in which both task and relational foci are reduced as the mentor withdraws and the protégé becomes a fully functioning professional. With this, the formal mentoring ends.

With this proven concept for the mentoring relationship in mind, we can see that the research report’s authors characterization of two methods, either “all task-oriented” mentoring, or all relational mentoring, are just two opposite ends of a continuum, and that the most effective mentoring moves along that continuum to make the mentoring match the changing, developmental needs of the protégé. In fact, we assert that this concept IS
the very definition of effective mentoring.

#2 – The reader is referred to the IMA web pages where this question is answered by a search of the literature and synthesis of the relevant research specifically for methods of mentor-protege matching. It is interesting that, in the findings of the above report, the results correspond to the conclusions of the IMA synthesis.

#3 – The largest part of the research reports available from the late 1970s and early 1980s is on this exact topic, the development of a “typology” or a definition of the roles and tasks of effective mentors.

The reader is referred to the IMA web pages where we provide defined roles and tasks for mentors based on the input of hundreds of experienced mentors working in every imaginable setting. Of course, these roles and tasks are general enough to apply to all settings, so any mentoring program in one specific setting will need to add mentoring tasks which are work-related or setting-specific.

#4 – This is true of most university student mentoring programs (and therefore studies of them) because mentor programs are conceived to meet both organizational and student needs. The logic is that, if students’ needs are meet (by mentoring, for example) then what the organization needs (good grades in the short run, and retention so that, in the longer run, mission accomplished – graduation rates).

The authors argue for a mentoring study focused on students’ perceptions of their own needs, but they also acknowledge that is one part of the set of reasons for mentoring. Certainly their research is of value, so it is provided here. The focus of their concern is the matching process for mentoring and the need to consider what protégés want in their mentor.

  • Their own findings will answer their question. Inclusion of personal matching
    factors such as they propose at this point, are found to be unimportant.
  • If the point of mentoring was only to create wonderful. close relationships then thinking that matching for personal factors (gender, ethnic, racial) does seem logical. But the quality of the relationship is a vehicle, not an end in itself. It is the means for achieving goals – personal and organizational. In other words, mentoring is about learning, discovery and growth, all factors which occur most rapidly when we do not see the world the same way as our mentor, do not have the same experiences or skills as our protégé. It is the diversity in a mentoring pair that turns out to be their greatest opportunity.

#5 – “First generation” students are the first in their family to attend an institution of higher education. The lack of parent experience in a university is sometimes seen as a disadvantage which can result in a lack of family understanding of what university life and success requires and hence a lack of support. The editor has not researched this concept for validity.


References

These may be seen by following the web address  given in the citation at the start of this page.