Palgrave Teaching and Learning

by Sally Brown (Series Editor)

Setting up mentoring schemes for students

Shamini K. Ragavan, Newcastle Law School, Newcastle University

Introduction

Mentoring is seen to be a very important tool in helping students to achieve effective academic and social integration within their institutions. Mentoring also helps engender a community of students, so that they have a sense of belonging to the community within the institution. The benefits of mentoring are both psychological and practical. Mentoring bears many advantages over other forms of learning. Mentoring is a powerful development tool for both mentors and mentees and can be a ‘life-changing’ experience for the mentoring coordinator/facilitator. The limitations of formal classroom-based teaching and learning make mentoring a cost-effective way to upgrade skills from a more experienced and skilful mentor. This improves the quality of education for students overall and provides for the students a rich and rewarding experience. It is usually a highly satisfying role for all involved.

Mentoring involves a deliberate pairing of a more skilled or more experienced person with a less skilled or less experienced one, with the mutually agreed goal of having the less skilled person grow and develop specific competencies (Murray and Owen, 2001). For this reason, a mentoring scheme can facilitate better transition of students into the programme, and further integrates them into a single student community whereby they might ‘empower’ each other to prevent isolation, disorientation and homesickness (Benn, 2000). Further, mentoring also aims to develop ongoing emotional resilience against the insecurities and vulnerabilities that often hinder students’ aspirations to be successful learners (Cohen and Hoberman, 1983).

There are different types of mentoring scheme and it is important for academics or the institution to decide which type of mentoring scheme will help achieve or advance the objectives of the institution.

Many institutions across the globe are making mentoring a mandatory part of their curriculum, so that all schools or departments run a mentoring scheme to further support incoming students in the institutions. Here are some thoughts on how best to design, set up and run a successful mentoring scheme.

The major objectives in implementing a mentoring scheme are to:

  1. Recognise the diverse social, academic and cultural backgrounds from which students come, and the need to facilitate integration of the students into the new social and academic surroundings. It is important for students to actively engage, academically, socially and culturally, in the academic environment.
  2. Recognise the vulnerabilities faced by these students and to promote better student interaction to prevent isolation, homesickness and intimidation.
  3. Ensure that the quality of education provided is rewarding for both students and staff.
  4. Provide continuing support to second- and final-year students (mentors).
  5. Create a community of students.
  6. Cultivate an environment that engenders mutual support and co-operative learning among students.



Tips on running a successful mentoring scheme:

  1. Accept that university students come from diverse backgrounds and that each student is an individual with his or her own particular issues. A mentoring scheme can bring together a group of diverse students with potentially similar concerns and interests.
  2. Recognise that the need to assess individual student experience is as important as the need to ensure successful integration into academic study. For this reason, the scheme needs to be flexible.
  3. Bear in mind that developing a community of students who share common concerns and interests prevents isolation from other students, a problem which often contributes to their frustration and anxiety in the institution.
  4. Permit mentees to make their own choice of a mentor (as opposed to assigning mentors to particular mentees). This may be achieved following an informal gathering with the mentors and mentees.
  5. Encourage mentees to speak to other mentors (and not just to their selected or assigned mentors) so that the group is motivated to work together as a community.
  6. Give sufficient autonomy to mentors in arranging meetings with their mentees.
  7. Permit mentors to make decisions on their preferred times and preferred venues for meetings with their mentees.
  8. Recognise the role of the mentoring coordinator/facilitator and the need to remain active during the entire process of setting up, training and ensuring the smooth running of the scheme.
  9. Assess, review and reflect on the progress of the mentoring scheme to enable continuous enhancement.

References and further reading


Benn, R. (2000) Exploring widening participation in higher education: targeting, retention and ‘really useful knowledge’. Seminar presentation, University of South Queensland, Australia.

Cohen, S. and Hoberman, H.M. (1983) Positive events and social supports as buffers of life change stress. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 13, p. 99.

Colley, H. (2003) Mentoring for Social Inclusion: A critical approach to nurturing mentor relationships, London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Murray, M. and Owen, M. (2001) Beyond the Myths and Magic of Mentoring. New York: Jossey-Bass.

Ragavan, S.K. (2012) Acquiring skills through a peer mentoring scheme: A UK law school experience, The Law Teacher, 46(1), p. 15.

Ragavan, S.K. (2014) Peer mentoring for international students in a UK law school: lessons from a pilot case study, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 51(3) p. 292.

Ragavan, S.K. (2014) Developing ethical values through a mentoring scheme, Legal Ethics, 17(3).