There are very few aspects of the college experience more important than forming meaningful mentor relationships. Students need mentors to assist in navigating the complexities of higher education, and the uncertainty and anticipation of what post-college life has in store.
The importance of mentors is often overlooked and undervalued until students experience the impact of mentorship for themselves. Even then, the mentor-student bond is often so organic and effortless that students might not initially realize the relationship’s positive impact.
Steven Spielberg once said that “the delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” Mentors keep students’ best interests, abilities, skills and talents in mind, giving them the influence and guidance they need to reach their highest potential.
Perhaps the most positive aspect of mentorship is the fact that it can take place on any campus. As author Daniel Chambliss noted in an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, colleges are under increasing pressure to “do more with less,” and to use “reliable, powerful, available, and cheap” strategies to keep students engaged on campus.
Chambliss and his colleague, Christopher G. Takacs, conducted a 10-year study that ultimately proved mentor-student relationships, along with friendships, to be fundamental in overall student success. “Research has… shown that peer and professor connections are the central daily motivators for exploring, discussing, studying, and learning, and that relationships of all kinds are often tied to a major positive result.” The study therefore confirmed that mentorship and peer relationships aren’t just key for retention; they’re imperative for student satisfaction.
A Breakdown of the Benefits of Mentorship:
Interests and Passion Development
Whether students enter college with a clear career path in mind, or they’re intent on weighing their options, mentors can help them discover and develop their interests and innermost passions.
The Research to Practice brief, published by the Washington Student Achievement Council, highlights the important role mentors play in students’ success during the college experience and beyond.
“Mentoring is a valuable strategy to provide students with emotional and instrumental support [they] need to achieve the goal of a college degree,” the brief explains. “By providing information, guidance, and encouragement, mentors can play an important role in nurturing students’ college aspirations…. In addition, mentoring for students in college helps [them] to feel more connected and engaged on campus, which can ultimately improve student outcomes.”
Leadership in the Classroom and Lab
On-campus mentorship allows students to gain perspective and confidence in the classroom and lab. Sometimes that guidance comes from top scientists recognized as leaders in their field. For over 20 years, Drew University scientist, William Campbell, mentored students in Drew’s Research Institute for Scientists Emeriti (RISE) program.
Campbell, who won a Nobel Prize in 2015 for discovering a parasitic disease-treating drug called ‘avermectin,’ is just one example of the many dedicated experts who work side-by-side with students in the lab. The impact Campbell made on his students through mentorship was immediately evident following the announcement of his Nobel Prize win.
“What I remember most is his kindness, his manners and his awesome dry sense of humor,” one Drew student wrote in a celebratory post on social media. “I am happy that so humble a man, who has done so much for so many, is being recognized for those efforts.”
Leadership in the Real World
Beyond the classroom and lab, mentors assist students in career and life choices. Transitional times are most difficult for individuals who don’t have a clear understanding of the environment or situation they’re transitioning to.
Mentoring.org notes four key ways mentors help students in their careers:
- Goal-Setting: Mentors assist college students in determining their career aspirations, and work with students to achieve them.
- Networking: Because mentors are often well-known and respected in their field and community, they can connect students with other professionals, internships and jobs.
- Broadening the Scope of Knowledge: Along with introducing students to professionals and opportunities in their chosen field, mentors acquaint students with new resources and organizations.
- Job-Seeking and Interview Skills, and Job Retention: Mentors are able to demystify the often overwhelming job-seeking and interview processes, and offer first-hand advice on how future graduates can stand out to potential employers. In addition, mentors advise students on maintaining career longevity.
Perhaps the most valuable aspect of mentorship is that each partnership is unique based on a student’s individual circumstances, chosen field of study and career goals.
College mentors can have a life-changing effect on a student’s career by empowering them with the guidance, confidence and skills necessary to succeed. So, when high school students are in their college search process, they would be wise to ask detailed questions about the mentoring program on each campus.