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The Mentoring Continuum From Graduate School through Tenure
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
An unfortunate font choice limits the value of this otherwise helpful anthology. The font gives the text a strobe-like effect that resulted in my inability to read it in more than short intervals.
On one hand, this is fine. The Mentoring Continuum consists of fifteen essays each of which stands independent of the others. This allows the reader to dip in and out of the collection at will. On the other hand, however, doing so reduces the benefit of reading the essays within the three sections (Origins, Transitions, Dialogues and Reflections) into which they have been arranged. It is especially instructive to read the first two sections as a set of essays on a common theme: “Origins” treats mentoring relationships in graduate school and “Transitions” addresses the period from associate professor to tenure. As “Dialogues and Reflections” is not associated with a particular career phase, this section suffers less from the impact of the font choice.
Glenn Wright, editor and contributor, rightly points to “Graduate Student ISO a Mentor: A Dialogue about Mentoring” by Jan Allen and Kevin Johnson, as a quasi-summation of “many of the book’s main preoccupations, including mentee agency and responsibility, the virtue of peer mentoring, non-academic career preparation, teaching as a critical area of focus, and the key role of administration in providing the impetus, initial frameworks, and ongoing supports for mentoring efforts.” For those new to the conversation about mentoring, this chapter provides a nice introduction to the topic and associated interests.
I expected The Mentoring Continuum to be of interest to faculty, and it is, but I was pleasantly surprised by how appealing this book will be to graduate students. A number of the authors offer detailed counsel to students on how to get the most out of a relationship with a mentor and how to set up different types of peer mentoring programs within their institutions.
In the new market reality, many faculty members will find Paula Chambers’ essay, “Subject Matter Plus: Mentoring for Nonacademic Careers,” particularly valuable. Chambers reassures faculty that they need not be experts in multiple career paths outside academia. She challenges them, however, to follow any one, or better all three, of her recommendations for serving their students well in the current environment. First, “Manage Your Messaging”: Chambers explains why particular academic clichés need to be abandoned or rethought so students will be encouraged to consider nonacademic careers. Second, “Assess the Career Climate in Your Department”; Towards this end, she supplies a multiple-choice questionnaire that can be used to gather actionable information. Third, “Make Referrals to Available Resources”; Chambers provides an ample list to keep at hand.
This chapter, “Subject Matter Plus,” exemplifies one of the distinctive strengths of this collection – the blend of the personal, the practical, and the theoretical dimensions of mentoring. A notoriously difficult concept to define, “mentoring” is given substance as it comes to life through conversations between mentors and mentees, charts and tables, and ample bibliographies.
Mentoring as Transformative Practice Supporting Student and Faculty Diversity (New Directions for Higher Education, Number 171)
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Research literature reveals that effective mentoring has significant and positive impact on student success and persistence for women and people of color. Mentoring as Transformative Practice consists of ten essays concerning effective traditional and nontraditional mentoring strategies for women and underrepresented minorities (URM). The essays presuppose the value of mentoring and also explore its impact on student outcomes and agency.
The majority of essays in this volume are written by women and persons of color who have successfully mentored others or have been the beneficiaries of effective mentoring relationships. Many of the essays employ a nontraditional methodology for analyzing mentoring relationships and effective mentoring methods. For example, a critical reflective and subjective instrument called scholarly personal narrative is used both to analyze mentoring relationships and as a tool to mentor students. Scholarly personal narratives highlight the author’s voice and communicate their perceptions and interpretations of their lived experiences. Such narratives reveal insights and depth of experience in compelling ways. These are not normally found in research works. They also offer a unique method for constructing new knowledge.
Chapter One uses personal narratives to examine significant aspects of mentoring that impact women and URMs in higher education arguing that they often need psychosocial versus academic mentoring. The authors – one with a national mentoring award – reflect on mentoring practices in their personal narratives. They conclude that students need mentors who offer authentic relationships, understand their experiences as minorities, listen without reprisal, and encourage and model vulnerability at all levels. In Chapter Two, an African American female and associate professor at a research university and six of her students analyze data from their scholarly personal narratives, revealing three consistent behaviors that contribute to the development of student agency: (1) perceived and actual approachability allowing for mutual trust and comfort leading to cultivation of student agency; (2) the balance of challenge and support; and (3) assistance and encouragement to develop a scholarly voice, passions, and vocation. In Chapter Four personal narratives are used as a critical pedagogical tool through which students trace and critically analyze their educational development, comparing their experiences with patterns highlighted by social science theories, quantitative data, and relevant social policies.
The book offers several mentoring takeaways in the remaining chapters. One takeaway is that mentoring can become a racialized experience when it takes the form of protecting a traditional canon from nontraditional perspectives brought to the learning experience by women and minority students. Viewed within the context of social justice, mentoring involves conscientization, the valuing of lived experience, and advocating for students. Nontraditional alternatives to proximate mentoring relationships include “mentoring-at-a-distance” through emails, conferences calls, and so forth, and various unexpected “cheerleaders” who become sources of psychosocial encouragement. Online mentoring solutions provide psychosocial support for students in specific disciplines, like STEM. “Pedagogy for Equity” peer mentoring can focus on three levels – personal biography, collaborative sociocultural group context, and broader institution. Intergenerational and near-peer approaches positively impact retention and achievement from junior high through doctoral programs.
I highly recommend this book as a resource for individual or institutional self-reflection about participation (or lack thereof) in mentoring relationships as mentor/mentee and for thinking about and developing effective mentoring strategies for women and URMs.
Faculty Mentoring: A Practical Manual for Mentors, Mentees, Administrators, and Faculty Developers
Date Reviewed: May 13, 2016
Faculty Mentoring offers a wealth of resources for justifying, planning, implementing, and evaluating faculty mentoring in one-on-one and group settings. Phillips and Dennison, faculty members at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, ground their suggestions in decades of experience directing and consulting with the Faculty Mentoring Program at UNCG and in a comprehensive review of literature about the value of mentoring.
The volume makes clear the benefits of mentoring to all involved: faculty mentees, faculty mentors, administrators, and institutions. Thoughtful mentoring programs aid in the recruitment and retention of pre-tenure faculty, connecting them more deeply to institutional life, orienting them to “the university’s mission and identity,” and helping them shape productive and sustainable attention to teaching, scholarship, and service (35). The authors demonstrate why formal mentoring relationships prove especially important to retain “diverse faculty, including minority and international faculty members” (35). When well executed, faculty mentoring helps “develop an academic atmosphere that mutually nurtures, supports, and further develops all faculty members’ teaching and research skills and assists them so that they feel part of a university/college community” (1).
The book’s first chapter offers guidance to mentors, including logistics of meetings, topics for discussion, and insight about the experiences of new faculty members. Chapter two presents guidelines for establishing mentoring groups for new faculty and includes advice for group facilitators. Chapter three speaks directly to new faculty members and provides tips for having a successful mentoring experience, including selecting an appropriate mentor, setting meaningful and reasonable expectations for the relationship, and “self-assessment of the mentoring experience” (24). Chapters four, five, and six weigh in programmatically with suggestions for mentoring within departments, guidelines for institutional administrators, and wisdom for directors of faculty mentoring programs. Chapter seven combs higher educational literature and provides an overview of the benefits of, and rationale for, faculty mentoring. A list of references at the end of each chapter is supplemented by an inventory of books and Internet resources in the Appendix. In total, the book’s appendices span sixty-five pages (nearly half the volume) and provide resources easily modifiable to fit specific institutional contexts. The templates, worksheets, checklists, and evaluation tools provided will not only help new programs launch more quickly but also offer existing programs resources for assessing and improving current practices.
This text speaks to a wide audience. The full volume will be useful for planners and directors of mentoring programs; individual chapters form stand-alone resources for their target readers (mentors, mentees, and administrators.) Faculty and administrators at institutions of all sizes will find usable insight in the text for mentoring programs funded at a variety of levels. Though geared toward the mentoring of early career faculty, the tools provided in Phillips and Dennison’s text may benefit even mid-career mentees. Finally, though written with mentoring efforts that are supported by institutions in mind, the volume also offers insight for those seeking or offering mentoring outside of formally run programs.
Mentoring At-Risk Students through the Hidden Curriculum of Higher Education
Date Reviewed: May 13, 2016
Dr. Smith’s book addresses various issues plaguing the world of higher education in the United States. According to Smith, there is continued disparity between low-income and high-income families’ access to the tools for academic achievement and unconscious cultural favoritism in academic institutions whose institutional culture is primarily informed by a White middle to upper class majority. Both patterns culminate into an amalgam of what Smith refers to as a hidden curriculum which students must master along with the formal curriculum in order to succeed academically. Because obtaining a college degree has the potential to increase a student’s chances at financial security for themselves and their families, being unaware of the hidden curriculum within an academic institution could cost students a great deal.
If higher education is still viewed by many Americans to function as “a ladder for upper mobility for the masses of people who were not lucky enough to be born into wealthy families,” then the limitation of access to higher education based on financial or cultural grounds is anathema to the American dream (1). If national morality does not sway the reader, Smith also presents a more utilitarian argument for those who see the civic benefits of a highly educated population (better health care centers, schools, social services, lower crime rates, and a stronger democracy). If those two arguments fall flat, Smith reminds the reader of President Obama’s Administration’s goal to increase the U.S. college graduation rate from 40 percent to 60 percent by 2025 (2).
What does this have to do with at-risk students? The population of students often categorized in this way represent a group whose struggles within the university might have more to do with being unaware of the rules of higher education and the hidden curriculum present in their home institutions than a lack of ability, effort, or desire. Smith’s research suggests that one way to help students (at-risk and others) would be to “implement a mentoring model that explicitly teaches students how to decode the hidden curriculum” (55).
Smith acknowledges that most educators do not want to admit that cultural and economic favoritism are pervasive in higher education, but research has proven otherwise. According to one 2011 survey referenced by the author, “senior college admission directors admitted to giving preferential treatment to wealthy students even if they had lower grades and test scores” (55). Full-pay and out-of-state students might find entrance into higher education easier than those needing financial assistance. Once low-income and underrepresented students make it onto campus, staying there requires facing challenges of a less overt nature… adjusting to the institution’s culture. Utilizing Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of institutional cultural capital, Smith describes universities as institutions embedded with the norms and values of the dominant group (in this case, often White, upper-class culture). Students are being ‘graded’ not only on their academic ability and progress but also their adherence to these norms and values (the hidden curriculum). According to Smith, the hidden curriculum is important because “teachers use it as an informal indicator of their students’ ability and performance in the formal curriculum” (22).
If students are being graded on expectations of which they are unaware, then, per Smith, it is up to these institutions to unveil the hidden curriculum. Smith champions the academic mentor as best suited to teach students about the institutional cultural capital (cultural knowledge, behaviors, and skills that foster academic success). Academic mentors have insider knowledge of how their university works and often have access to privileged information and to social networks on campus.
Outlining three cycles of mentoring (advising, advocacy, and apprenticeship), informed by four theoretical perspectives (involvement theory, academic and social integration theory, social support theory, and theory on cognitive levels and developmental stages), Smith lays out a clear but also nuanced mentoring method. While studying the systematic marginalization of students uninitiated into the culture of higher education may lead researchers to despair, Smith’s method offers many examples of how mentorship can empower and enrich the lives of both mentees and mentors. Smith’s steps recommend that mentors advise (tell students what they should do), then advocate (motivate and connect students with key resources on campus), and then, in the apprenticeship phase, “empower mentees to transform into powerful social agents who determine their academic destiny” (62-64). Her model does suggest the view that academic mentoring is a great deal like teaching… just at an intensive level. As an academic advisor, I was especially impressed with the conclusion’s section on the benefits of colleges creating mentoring institutions. Having seen students stumble unaware of the institutional culture and academic etiquette required to succeed in higher education, I hope to bring some of these theories and practices to the attention of the advising community at my university.
Notably best suited for administrators and faculty within institutions of higher education, this text would also be insightful to any reader interested in education reform, academic advising and mentoring, and social equity in education. It would not hurt readers to have some familiarity with academic theory from the disciplines of sociology and education but the author does not assume that her readers are well versed in either and provides well-summarized definitions of crucial theoretical terms and concepts throughout the book. Perhaps what I found most helpful in the book were the multitude of fictionalized examples (based on actual experiences of students and mentors) of the hidden curriculum in action which illuminated for me the variety of struggles many at-risk students face.
Starting Strong (A Mentoring Fable): Strategies for Success in the First 90 Days
Date Reviewed: December 16, 2015
Lois J. Zachary and Lory A. Fischler’s Starting Strong is an accessible book that has varying use depending on one’s institution. The book is composed in two sections. The first is a fable situated within a large corporation that has multiple divisions and an official mentoring program. The main characters are Cynthia, a VP of Marketing and Communications, and Rafa, a newly hired financial analyst. The fable follows them through six mentoring conversations and maps their mutual development. The second section is a summary and strategy for having those same conversations in your own mentoring relationships. Zachary and Fischler’s writing is easily absorbed and their ideas about mentoring presented in the form of a dialogue allow readers to imagine themselves in similar conversations whether they are a mentor or mentee. Scholars who are in institutions with formalized mentorship programs may find this to be a helpful book because it can assist with structuring early mentorship meetings, setting boundaries and goals, and setting the stage for both mentors and mentees to benefit from a mentoring relationship from the beginning.
Starting Strong’s weakness for those teaching and learning in Religious Studies and Theology is that the book’s corporate setting results in some mentoring relationships that are hard – if not impossible – to copy to the relationships in which most professional academics will engage. For example, Cynthia has no power over Rafa. She is only a mentor, there for his development. This model excludes the teacher-student relationship in which mentoring takes place -- where assessment is a significant obstacle to overcome toward building rapport with students. So long as teachers hold the power to evaluate students, then the mentorship relationship Zachary and Fischler imagine does not happen in academia. By the same token, unless your institution has a formalized mentorship program that explicitly takes people out of their colleges and departments and into relationships with people in other faculties, the risks to tenure and promotion from a mentor who works closely with one’s supervisors does not allow for the kinds of open exchanges and risks Cynthia and Rafa take in developing Rafa’s leadership skills. Zachary and Fischler did not write this book for academics, but if academics are going to think about mentorship and the development of students and faculty then the question of how that might be done within higher education’s hierarchies needs to be asked.
It is worth the time to think about how to formalize mentorship programs into specific institutions – both for students and faculty – and this book can help once those programs are implemented. For those who are looking for a book that can help start the process of mentoring someone, including graduate students, then this is a useful book to mine for ideas, especially the second section in which the authors summarize the conversations one needs to have to achieve mentoring success in the first ninety days. I recommend Starting Strong as a resource for graduate student supervisors, but its assumptions do not translate as well into undergraduate mentorship.