Who mentors? New data on mentoring

The results of a new poll show that faculty members play a primary role when it comes to mentoring most students. The new study was conducted by Strada Education Network and Gallup, drawing from a survey of over 5,100 U.S. college graduates in 2018. Among the key findings includes this fact:

Professors are the predominant source of undergraduate mentorship. Nearly two-thirds of recent graduates who agree or strongly agree that they had a mentor during college say that mentor was a professor (64%). 

However, important caveats to that also came to light, revealing disparities in the experiences among students, depending upon ethnicity and background:

First-generation college student (FGCS) and minority graduates who had a mentor are less likely than their counterparts to identify their mentor as a professor, though professors still remain the primary source of mentorship for both groups. While nearly three-quarters of white graduates say their mentor was a professor (72%), less than half of minority graduates say the same (47%). Two-thirds of non-FGCS graduates say their mentor was a professor, compared with 61% of FGCS graduates.

Who is doing the mentoring?

Graduates’ professor mentors were most likely to come from an arts and humanities field: 43% of those who had a professor mentor during college say their mentor taught a subject in arts and humanities, followed by science and engineering professors (28%), social sciences professors (20%), and business professors (9%).

We know from previous surveys that a close relationship with a mentor was one of the strongest factors related to engagement and well-being after graduation. According to the 2014 study:

The three most potent elements linked to long-term success for college grads relate to emotional support: feeling that they had a professor who made them excited about learning, that the professors at their alma mater cared about them as a person, and that they had a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams. If graduates strongly agree with these three things, it doubles the odds they are engaged in their work and thriving in their overall well-being.

So what might these new results mean for institutions that are committed to fostering a culture of vocational discernment for their students? Some initial thoughts:

  • Colleges and universities should think carefully about where vocation programs are housed on campus.
  • Given the prominent role that faculty play in mentoring for many(but not all) students, they might use their influence to encourage students to seek out mentoring from other sources as well.
  • We cannot assume that faculty-to-student mentoring is occurring; we should not assume that all students are getting the support they need.
  • We must diversify the faculty if we care about mentoring all of our students.

For a short summation of the findings of the poll, see this week’s Chronicle coverage – the article includes helpful graphics to convey some of the key points. Insider Higher Ed has an even briefer “quick take” on the survey. To download the full report, see the 2018 Strada Gallup Alumni Survey.

Local Heroes

When she was 16 years old, Deirdre Sullivan’s father insisted that she go to the funeral of her 5th grade math teacher. She complained and resisted, but her father was adamant. Always go to the funeral, he instructed her: “Do it for the family.”

Her father’s advice is the focus of Sullivan’s widely read “This I Believe” essay, part of the collection assembled by National Public Radio between 2005-2009 when it rebooted the 1950s series hosted by Edward R. Murrow. Hundreds of similar essays, written by famous artists, scientists, educators, athletes and politicians as well as by unknown people who responded to the invitation to compose an essay, can be accessed through the This I Believe website. It is a treasure trove for short readings that can be used to prompt discussion about life, meaning, and purpose. Asking students to write their own “This I Believe” essay (and then to share them aloud with their classmates) can be a very effective exercise. It’s especially powerful when the professor shares his or her own essay. Continue reading

Vocation and Civility

Current Issue (Volume 48) 2018

How do I figure out what I’m called to do in life? This is a question that many of our students face, and if we’re honest, it’s one that we ourselves sometimes wonder about.

Lynn Hunnicutt, professor of economics at Pacific Lutheran University, founding director of PLU’s Wild Hope Center for Vocation and currently Assistant Director for NetVUE, shares some of her personal and professional insights about this question in a new essay published in Intersections. Continue reading

The problem with “you can do anything you want!”

In this week’s Chronicle, Scott Carlson wonders about the value of telling graduates that “they can do anything with their degree.” He relays the story of “Mike,” a college graduate he met who now works at a local grocery store and who remains unsure about his future. Mike is committed to environmentalism and sustainability, loves reading and  appreciates how his liberal arts education challenged him to think about “deep questions.”

But Mike now feels lost, and questions the preparation offered by his alma mater:

“That college is supposed to be ‘the best four years of your life’ weighed on me,” he says. “It’s like a country club there. The lawn is mowed every day. There’s no trash. That’s evidence of how far it is from reality.”

Continue reading

The liberal arts, soft skills and a “storm-hardy” faith

A recent piece in the Chronicle highlighted Bates College and other institutions that provide opportunities for real-life work as an important part of the undergraduate experience. Bethel University, a member of NetVUE located in St. Paul, Minnesota, offers another solid example of how faith, work and the liberal arts can come together in a dynamic way. They highlight how the “timeless tradition” of the liberal arts can be married to a 21st century education that instills the “soft skills” desired by companies such as Google:

Among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top managers, seven were soft skills, including areas like communication, listening, empathy, and critical thinking and problem solving.

An education at Bethel, however, reaches beyond these “marketable skills.” Continue reading

May Their Memory be a Blessing

Following their respective deaths in August, the news recently has included remembrances of Aretha Franklin (1942-2018) and John McCain (1936-2018). Through various tributes, we get a sense of their lives as well as their social and cultural significance. This has been followed by commentary about what makes for an appropriate way to remember someone after their passing. (Is such second-order critique inevitable or is it another symptom of our cultural divide?). We learn something about our collective life in these moments.

Whether it is an internationally known figure or a “local hero,” reflecting upon how we remember great men and women can be instructive. Eulogies are an important form of articulating what we understand to be a good life.  Continue reading

“Well begun is half done.”

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Professor Peter Frederick

It was Peter Frederick, retired historian and beloved teaching guru from Wabash College, who introduced me to the significance of the first day of class. His advice was straightforward, almost obvious, the way plain truths often are. And yet, as a new teacher, caught up in my own nervousness, concerned with the syllabus and making a good first impression, I had not fully appreciated how important it was to set a tone and allay student fears during that first meeting at the beginning of a new term.

On the first day, Peter reminds us, students are wondering about three things: the teacher (does the teacher care? are they fair? competent?); the course (is this course for me? will it be useful? relevant? appropriate?); and, finally, about their classmates (who are these other students in the class?). Peter further stresses the importance of getting into the course material on that very first day and has some good strategies for how to do that. Continue reading