Source: Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, Vol. 20, No. 3, August 2012, 409–425
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The purpose of this study was to understand the ways in which undergraduates grew and developed through participation in a holistic peer-mentoring experience.
This 14-week project was implemented in Spring 2009 and 2010.
The study sample was drawn from undergraduates at a midsize, private university. The sample consisted of 74 protégés (62 freshmen 11 sophomores and one junior), who were mentored by 26 juniors and seniors in good academic standing.
Data were collected through mentors’ journals and protégés’ self-reported statements as well as longitudinal assessments made throughout the semester by mentors about their protégés’ progress toward self-established goals.
Twenty-two patterns of protégé growth emerged from the analysis of the data, which were organized conceptually into six overarching, emergent themes of protégé development: academic skills and knowledge, career decision-making, connectedness to others, maturity, physical wellbeing, and aspiration.
The first of these themes, concerning the development of academic skills and knowledge, included growth in such areas as being organized, time management, study habits (e.g. note-taking), paper-writing, and knowledge and specific skills pertinent to specific academic areas. Nearly all protégé participants in the study (93%) were categorized as having experienced some level of academic growth.
Growth with respect to career decision-making is a second theme that emerged in the data on the mentoring relationships – specifically for 21 protégés (28%). This was often due to mentors engaging in a consideration with the protégés about their choice of academic major or career, or preparations for graduate school.
A third theme of protégé growth, connectedness to others, or social support, emerged in the data on 66 protégés (88%). This broad theme included a variety of types of growth experiences, such as the following: overcoming extreme shyness/insularity through regular interaction with caring others and becoming more comfortable and confident with meeting people and making new friends; overcoming being antisocial; developing a desire to participate more in campus activities.
A fourth emergent theme of protégé development relates to growth in maturity, or growth with respect to life skills, coping with difficulties, maintaining balance between different spheres of life activity, or development of character.
The final emergent theme for protégé growth was identified as aspiration. This theme embraces those ways in which protégés grew through the inspirational example of a mentor that might be characterized as reflecting the emergence of a higher impulse, yearning, or aspiration. Some examples are being more highly motivated to succeed, becoming a better person, or having the desire to become a role model to others.
The findings revealed that that 88% of protégés grew in social terms through the mentoring experience – a rate almost as high as the 93% who grew academically through the experience. Furthermore, 73% of students grew in terms of maturity because of the mentoring experience, even though only 14% had explicitly set goals that were retrospectively classified by the researchers to fall within the maturity theme.
The authors argue that the very high rates of protégé growth within the themes of academics, social connectedness, and maturity raise the possibility that growth in these thematic dimensions may be synergistic and mutually reinforcing.
The authors believe the findings of this study may be of value in informing the development of mentoring programs, and in particular, peer- mentoring programs, in that they indicate a range of themes through which protégés may grow within a holistic mentoring experience. Such information can be of value, for example, in training mentors to recognize and understand the growth patterns they might conceivably encounter in their protégés within the mentoring experience.
An holistic peer-mentoring experience potentially has great value in extending not only individualized academic encouragement, but perhaps even more importantly, critical support for social integration, cultural capital, and personal growth to students from social and economic backgrounds that traditionally have not had access to the higher education experience in the USA. Holistic peer-mentoring experiences can provide nontraditional, early undergraduates with critical and personalized informational and cultural support in making the transition to being successful within a postsecondary educational environment.