Mentoring- A core component for developing student leaders

Rachel Kohman, KC Representative

May 31, 2019

As a professional who supports student leadership programs and student leadership development on my campus I know there are so many considerations to make when it comes to this work.  Students who are in leadership capacities, as well as students who are just beginning to enter into the possibilities of leadership development do not likely come to us as fully developed leaders.  There is a need for additional investment of resources to support the actualization of the potential for these student leaders.  As professionals within student affairs, we want the best possible outcomes for our student leaders.  One study completed by Strawn, McKim, and Velez (2017) highlighted the importance of multiple approaches being used in leadership development programs.  When thinking about all the strategies utilized for supporting successful student leadership development there is everything from service learning, to high impact curriculum, and even experiential based learning.  While all of these are incredibly beneficial, I would suggest not overlooking the importance of mentoring as a component of student leadership development. 

Mentoring can take many forms.  Here are a few examples, and the unique benefits each can offer for both mentor and mentee:

Advisor mentor: This is likely a bit more formalized of a mentor role of the professional staff or faculty member who advises the student organization.  Because of the more involved nature of supporting the organization as a whole, the advisor has greater perspective of the intricacies of the group dynamics.  Thus when mentoring the specific students in the organization there can be more focused discussion on specific behaviors of the student in their role and higher levels of follow through. 

            Considerations for the mentor: Dual role and over involvement when working with a student who is also in the organization being advised by the mentor. 

Staff/Faculty Mentor: Many professionals on campus are or have been an informal mentor to undergraduate, graduate or other professionalsThere is also great benefit from having a more formalized mentoring component embedded into leadership development programs or curriculum which facilitates interaction with a professor or staff member in the mentee’s major of study.  Having a mentor in the major allows mentees the opportunity to gain greater insight to the future prospects within their profession, and gives the mentor access to soon to be professionals to support the continuation of a strong standard of excellence in the field. 

            Considerations for the mentor: Clear boundaries specifically relating to subject matter, level of involvement, and time. 

Peer Mentor: This mentoring role can be incredibly powerful as peer to peer interactions have a different level of vulnerability and accountability.  Those who are the peer mentor, get experience in providing that support to the budding student leader.  The student mentee is able to see that being a leader and impacting the younger leaders on campus is not something that has to wait until after graduation. 

            Considerations for the mentor: Proper training and clear expectations outlined for the student who is serving as the mentor.   

In my own work there are several practical ways I have instituted mentoring components through student leadership programing.  Being an advisor for Student Government, I have additional time set aside to discuss with the President and Vice President their specific leadership approaches and dynamics of the group.  Being a staff member at the institution there are many informal mentoring opportunities as well.  The most success I have regarding initiating these informal mentoring relationships with students is to begin by being visible.  Students who are familiar with me and have seen me interact in a variety of settings are more comfortable seeking me out when they are in need of support or guidance. 

Personally the peer mentoring model is the one where I see the greatest return on investment.  The benefits for both mentor and mentee can be incredible, and it allows space so I am not the keeper of all wisdom or advice for these students.  In a leadership class, I have the upperclassmen or returning leaders of the class mentor the new students for the semester.  This mentor relationship is required as a component of the syllabus for both mentor and mentee, and simply requires they touch base at the end of each class session.  Additionally, the implementation of a campus wide first year student peer mentoring program has been utilized on my campus as well.  The upperclassmen students who are serving as mentors complete a two hour training prior to being matched with any mentees.  The mentees can sign up for a mentor as early as they are enrolled at the University, and their mentor will reach out to them within two weeks of signing up.  The time commitment is very loose, and dependent on what the individual mentees are wanting as far as support.   

In conclusion, be sure that you are intentional and thoughtful as to which mentoring approach is best for the student leaders you are wanting to develop.  Planning and preparation is critical so the mentee knows what to expect, and the mentor doesn’t get burned out.  No matter which mentoring experience you are wanting to embark on, know that it is an initiative that is worth the investment!

Strawn, K., McKim, A. J., & Velez, J. J. (2017). Linking Experiences and Outcomes within a Postsecondary Leadership Development Program. Journal of Leadership Education.

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