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New research: Acting as a mentor associated with civic engagement years later

Goldner, L. & Golan, D. (2017). The long-term effects of youth mentoring on student mentors’ civic engagement attitudes and behavior. Journal of Community Psychology, 00, 1-13. DOI: 10.1002/jcop.21886

Summarized by Justin Preston

Introduction

So often, research focuses on the implications of mentoring for the mentee. This is, of course, a vitally important piece of the mentoring puzzle, but it does tend to leave the other half of the relationship unexamined: the mentor themselves. In what ways does serving as a mentor impact an individual? Does engaging with at-risk youth to support them in pursuing their goals of higher education or career lead one to see themselves as an effective change-maker in society?

The present study sought to investigate the link between serving as a mentor and levels of civic engagement five to ten years after having served as a mentor. Civic engagement, as defined by the authors of the present study, could be considered as, “the ways in which individual and collective actions aimed at identifying and addressing issues of public concern are undertaken to improve conditions for others and/or help shape a community’s future.” Further, “Engagement of this type can lead to a sense of connection, interrelatedness, and commitment towards the community at large.”

One method for achieving this sense of civic engagement is through the use of university-community partnerships. However, it could also be that mentoring could serve a similar function for the mentor in developing a sense of their identity as an engaged, active citizen.

To answer these questions, the authors posited four hypotheses:

H1: High levels of self-perceived mentoring contribution should be associated with higher levels of civic engagement attitudes and behavior.

H2: Higher levels of civic engagement attitudes should be associated with higher levels of civic engagement behavior.

H3: The former mentors’ greater perceived quality of training should be associated with higher levels of self-perceived mentoring contribution, civic engagement attitudes, and behavior.

H4: The former mentors’ self-perceived mentoring contribution should mediate the relationship between their perceived quality of training throughout the mentoring intervention and their current civic engagement attitudes. In turn, these attitudes should mediate the relationship between the self-perceived mentoring contribution and current civic engagement behavior.

Method

Former mentors from a college-based mentoring program were recruited via email to complete a series of questionnaires on their attitudes toward civic engagement, self-perceived mentoring contributions (e.g. humanitarian concern for others, career contribution, and opportunity to learn and utilize new skills), civic engagement behaviors (politics, volunteering, for example), and the perceived quality of mentor training they felt they received.

From a total of 4,501 graduates of the mentoring program who were contacted, 8.37% responded for a total of 377 young adults who served as mentors between 2005 and 2010. The mean age was 30.6 years (range 25-61 years; SD=9.33 years). As the study was conducted in Israel, the majority of the participants were Jewish (N=354, 94%), with the remainder being of Arab descent (N=23; 6%). All participants had at least an undergraduate degree.

Most participants (68%) had mentored for only one year during their undergraduate studies, and a majority (47%) had stopped mentoring five years before the study commenced. Correlations did not reveal any associations between the period of time that had elapsed since the end of mentoring or the duration of mentoring and the study outcome variables.

Results

From the authors, “Of the former mentors, 82% (n = 309) described the mentoring experience as positive, 8% (n = 29) described the experience as negative, and the remainder described it as mixed (n = 39, 10%). The mean scores for the contribution variables indicated that the former mentors perceived their participation in the mentoring intervention as having moderately contributed to their civic engagement. Twenty-nine percent (n = 108) stated that they currently took an active part in civic engagement activities.”

Those mentors who perceived their general contribution in mentoring saw their scores significantly correlate with their current civic knowledge and skills, civic duty, and civic participation. In other words, those who felt they contributed as mentors were more likely to be civically engaged years later.

Participants’ appraisals of their mentor training they received was significantly positively correlated with their self-perceived general mentoring contribution, knowledge and skills, civic duty, and civic participation, but not with their current behavior. Put simply, people who felt well-trained were more likely to believe they were quality mentors.

Discussion and Implications

As the authors state of their findings, “Because the former mentors were assessed 5 to 10 years after the mentoring experience, these findings suggest that there may be long-term effects of mentoring on later civic activism. This is consistent with findings that highlight the relationship between students’ involvement in civic engagement activities and higher levels of self-competence, personal growth, leadership and interpersonal skills, a better understanding of the lives of high-risk youth and commitment to social activity after college”

Another important aspect of these findings is the key nature of the participants’ perceptions of their mentoring training, and the impact the training had on their experience as effective mentors. According to the authors of the study, “field practitioners should be aware of the potential role of mentors’ training as a springboard for reflection that can lead to greater social awareness, self-appreciation, and civic responsibility when supervising mentor–mentee relationships.”

While this research is largely correlational in nature, and is focused on a specific mode of mentoring (college-based, emerging adult-youth mentoring) in Israel, meaning that cultural differences between the US and Israel may make translating these findings to the US challenging, the implications of the findings are nonetheless important. They have demonstrated a link between connecting with another person via mentoring can play a part in fostering civically engaged and active citizens, one of the foundational aspects of a successful, democratic society.

 

To access the original research, click here.

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