Leisa McCormick and Yung-Hwa Anna Chow, Washington State University
The relationship between faculty and students is an important one. Research has shown that when there is a lack of connection between the student and his/her professors, the student often feels disengaged, disconnected, and unmotivated. In contrast, evidence suggests that those “students who are mentored are better at problem solving, decision making, goal setting, making an effective transition to college and, overall, they are happier with their education experience” (Long, Fish, Kuhn, & Sowders, 2010, para. 7). Additionally, research has shown that retention rates have increased when there is a greater connection between students and faculty. However, in many institutions the relationship between students and faculty has been increasingly limited to the classroom. The lack of mentoring in our current institutions demonstrates that academic advisors have a critical role in facilitating a productive mentoring relationship between students and faculty.
Holba (2012) shares that definitions of mentoring vary in the fields of the humanities, sciences, and professional degrees and disciplines. Mentoring can be formal or informal, one-on-one or in a group setting, and the length of time in a mentoring partnership also varies. In addition, mentoring also occurs with specific student populations, such as women, minorities, first generation, and “at risk” students. These inconsistencies can be confusing for freshman students that are still learning to navigate the university. For universities that are seeking ways to improve their retention of first and second year students, eliminating confusion is critical to helping students feel a part of the system and not outside of it. Advisors can serve as a solution to this issue.
To address current limitations on faculty advising, this article provides examples of mentoring, examines some of the issues that hinder faculty mentoring, and provides suggestions for how advisors can promote the faculty/student relationship.
Issues Preventing Faculty Mentoring
Campbell and Campbell’s (1997) study shows that if a student can meet regularly with a faculty mentor, the student will be more engaged and confident. This often translates to having better grades, higher retention rates, and more students graduating in fewer semesters. The study further emphasized that the “greatest programmatic impact on GPA [occurred] in the first semester” (p. 733). With all of these positive outcomes, we need to ask: why aren’t more universities requiring faculty mentoring?
Long, Fish, Kuhn, and Sowders (2010) discuss the challenges of university-wide mentoring, noting that undergraduate mentoring is difficult because there is little incentive for the faculty member to pursue a mentoring relationship. Tenure track faculty have significant responsibilities such as teaching, research, and service to the university that impact their tenure and promotion process. Beyond the intrinsic reward that faculty receive from working with one another on a more personal basis, mentoring does not lead to promotion. Universities often have no mechanisms in place that formally recognize and reward faculty mentoring.
Implementing a university-wide mentoring program is quite complicated. Consistency across departments is almost impossible to achieve. Most departments exist fairly independently of each other, so systems for assigning mentors can differ dramatically from department to department, making a standardized university-wide policy on advising difficult to implement.
Suggestions for Promoting a Faculty/Student Mentoring Relationship
Advisors play a critical role in the faculty/student relationship. Below are various suggestions that advisors can implement within their own departments to initiate or further strengthen an existing mentoring program.
Approaches to Identifying the Right Faculty Mentor. One fairly simple approach to pairing students with the correct faculty member is to have the students self-select a faculty member. This approach appeals to those students that are fairly committed to seeking a relationship with their teacher, but it doesn’t work as well for those students that lack the self- confidence to make a connection with their teacher and then take the additional step to pursue a relationship with her/him. Self-selection has a downside as students frequently are drawn to similar faculty members. Without some administrative approach that can equally distribute the mentor workload, certain faculty members can find themselves with a number of mentees while their less approachable colleagues have none.
One possible solution is for advisors to guide students to an appropriate mentor by asking some exploring questions. Schwartz (2008) suggests asking questions regarding the academic disciplines they plan to pursue, the role they anticipate their mentor having in their lives, and how their temperament may affect their ability to receive criticism. With the help of an advisor who is familiar with faculty members of a department, pairing students with the right mentor can lead to a successful and productive partnership.
Educating Students about Advising and Mentoring. Krush and Winn (2010) made several suggestions on how faculty and advisors can collaborate on the faculty/student mentoring relationship. One suggestion is for faculty and advisors to become actively involved in first-year introductory courses. Departments that offer first-year introductory courses have a platform to educate incoming students about academic advising and faculty mentoring. Not only can students learn about their major curriculum, advising, and strategies for academic success, introductory courses can also teach students about professional development, career options, and the role of faculty mentoring. Faculty members who are teaching first year classes can offer guest-lectures in these introductory courses to share their personal journey, research, and discuss their mentoring goals.
Departments that do not offer introductory courses can take advantage of creating an advising syllabus that supports and facilitates faculty mentoring. The advising syllabus should educate students about departmental missions, learning outcomes, university resources, major requirements, and outline the student’s and the advisor’s responsibilities in this partnership. Faculty mentoring becomes another important part of the syllabus that advisors can review with students. Information such as the goal of faculty mentoring, each faculty’s research background, and their experiences and highlights with previous student mentees should be included and discussed with incoming students. Advisors can facilitate the student-faculty relationship by helping their student select a faculty mentor then connecting both parties with an email introduction or simply walking the student to the faculty member’s office for a face-to-face introduction. Taking this extra step to formally connect students with their faculty mentor will help students feel less intimidated about approaching a faculty member.
Assisting Faculty and Students in Making Mentoring Productive. Duberstein (2009) suggests that advisors can facilitate the faculty-student relationship by encouraging students to talk to their professors. This first meeting is more meaningful if advisors help the student prepare for this conversation: “Not only should students be encouraged to ask faculty for general scholastic advice, but they also should learn how faculty became invested in their particular field of expertise. These conversations can also be helpful to students who believe they have solidified their academic interests, as role modeling, references, and research opportunities can arise from these relationships” (Duberstein, 2009, para. 6). Advisors can also prepare a list of suggested questions for the student to ask her/his faculty mentor to initiate a productive relationship. Questions such as “What advice do you have for a student who’s seeking a career in this field? How did you become interested in your field? What aspects of this field do you find most rewarding? How should I study to best prepare for classes? How might your research impact everyday life?” (UC Riverside, n.d., para. 5).
To create more beneficial mentorships between students and faculty, advisors can communicate with faculty mentors and be aware of opportunities for students. Advisors can attend departmental meetings to provide advising updates such as students’ plans toward graduation, upcoming university deadlines, or new resources that faculty can utilize when working with students. Advisors can also learn about departmental opportunities such as faculty-led study abroad programs, undergraduate research, independent studies, and teaching or research assistantships that will connect students to faculty mentoring. Open communication and collaboration about student success will highlight the efforts that advisors and faculty are all making toward the common goal of student success.
Despite having so many definitions and various methods and forms of mentoring, research suggests that when mentorship does occur between faculty and students, the “mentoring relationships are personal and reciprocal” (Crisp and Cruz, 2009, p. 528). Advisors play a critical role in talking to students about the importance of faculty mentoring, identifying the right mentor, and working with faculty mentors to foster a productive relationship. With the mutual goals of student success and retention, faculty, advisors, and other stakeholders must work together to provide the best educational experiences for all students.
Department of English
College of Arts and Sciences
Washington State University
Yung-Hwa Anna Chow
General Studies and Advising Center
College of Arts and Sciences
Washington State University
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Crisp, G. & Cruz, I. (2009). Mentoring college students: A critical review of the literature between 1990 and 2007. Research in Higher Education, 50(6), 525-545. doi: 10.1007/s11162-009-9130-2
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Long, E. C. J., Fish, J., Kuhn, L. & Sowders, J. (2010). Mentoring undergraduates: Professors strategically guiding the next generation of professionals. Michigan Family Review, 14(1), Retrieved from http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/mfr/4919087.0014.104/--mentoring-undergraduates-professors-strategically-guiding?rgn=main;view=fulltext
Schwartz, M. (2008, December). Matching mentors for high achieving students. Academic Advising Today, 31(4). Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Matching-Mentors-for-High-Achieving-Students.aspx
UC Riverside. (n.d.). Bourns College of Engineering Faculty Mentoring Program. Retrieved from http://student.engr.ucr.edu/people/facultymentors.html
Cite this article using APA style as: Cormick, L., & Chow, Y. (2016, June). Suggestions for starting a departmental faculty program: Benefits, barriers, and advisors’ role. Academic Advising Today, 39(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]