By September 28, 2016 1 Comments Read More →

It’s not what you know….: The case for a networked approach to mentoring

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by Jean Rhodes

According to a recent Gallup poll  successful college students have one important thing in common–they all had one or more teachers who were mentors who took an interest in their hopes and dreams.  “We think it’s a big deal” where we go to college,” Gallup’s Brandon Busteed told the New York Times. But graduates with professors “who cared about them as a person — or had a mentor who encouraged their goals and dreams and/or had an internship where they applied what they were learning — were twice as likely to be engaged with their work and thriving in their overall well-being,” said Busteed. Unfortunately, less than quarter (22 percent) of the college graduates had such a mentor. What’s more, the least privileged students tend to be the least likely  form these vital connections during high school and college.

With this in mind, my colleagues, Sarah Schwartz, Janis Kupersmidt, Stella Kanchewa, and I have created an evidence-based, Connected Scholars program, which is designed to actively support students in cultivating a network of caring adults, rather than a single mentoring relationship. Students are taught strategies for connecting with professors, supervisors, academic staff, and the other caring adults in their social networks. Unlike traditional mentoring programs, which have focused primarily on developing relationships by assigning formal mentors to youth, this approach focuses on training students so that they can identify, recruit, and draw on adults whom they believe might helpful in providing support and advancing their academic and career goals. To this end, students participate in a series of workshops that include training in identifying the adults in their networks and practicing strategies for connecting with potential mentors through role-playing as well as real-world conversations and interviews with adults in their social networks. Here’s why we think it might be particularly to today’s young people

  1. By directly targeting and promoting the development of help-recruiting skills, students learn valuable skill sets that they can draw on throughout their lives.
  2. When young people can find their own mentors, the relationships are more engaged and enduring–with improved outcomes compared to traditional mentoring programs.
  3. Students who participate are also more likely to seek support through tutoring, advising, career counseling, and/or mental health counseling services, as well as to become engaged in academic or extracurricular clubs or activities.

A quasi-experimental evaluation is underway and preliminary findings from an earlier implementation of the program suggests that participating students placed increased value on students placed on social capital and mentoring relationships, developed their knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy in how to develop such relationships. Importantly, the program improved the way in which they interacted with potential academic and career mentors (Schwartz et al., 2016).

Moreover, a variation of this model (in which youth nominate just one mentor) has been rigorously evaluated and shown to lead to improvements in academic and career outcomes, including reduced attrition (Millenky, Schwartz, & Rhodes, 2013; Schwartz, et al., 2013; Spencer, Tugenberg, Ocean, Schwartz, & Rhodes 2014). Importantly, relationships are more enduring when students played a greater role in selecting their own mentors (rather than being assigned).

You can read the full-report on this model in this article: Schwartz, S. E. O., Kanchewa, S. S., Rhodes, J. E., Cutler, E. & Cunningham, J. L. (2016). “I didn’t know you could just ask:” Empowering underrepresented college-bound students to recruit academic and career mentors. Children and Youth Services Review, 64, 51-19

And learn more details about how to access this program here: cs_flyer_highschool-10lessons


1 Comment on "It’s not what you know….: The case for a networked approach to mentoring"

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  1. This idea of mentoring as network building is something that I’ve believed in for a couple of decades, as a result of leading a site-based volunteer-based tutor/mentor program in Chicago from 1975-2011. The site and it’s leaders provide a safe place and hub of support, for students and volunteers who participate. While each youth was assigned a primary one-on-one volunteer, they met many other adults via the field trips, parties and activities offered at the site. Since volunteers often had to leave the program due to work or life changes, knowing other volunteers, and staff, helped with transitioning a student from one primary volunteer to another, and helped keep the students involved longer.

    In the past 10-15 years I’ve come to think of this as a form of “bridging social capital”, especially after reading Robert Putnam’s book “Bowling Alone” in the early 2000s. At the same time, I’ve also connected with people who are mapping networks, and how people in groups are connected to each other, using social network analysis software.

    Thus, in 2010 I began searching for volunteers, college partners, others who would develop a survey that would ask youth and volunteers to show what type of people were in their networks (college graduate, high school drop out, ex offender, lawyer, etc). The responses of each person would show what their network looked like when they joined the program. If the survey is repeated every couple of years, the network of both youth and volunteer should have more nodes connecting them to other people and experiences that would not have been likely without being part of the program.

    Creating such maps and showing changes in network composition could be a new way to show value of volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs, both for the impact on the youth, and on the adult volunteer. Since businesses are showing growing interest in helping employees expand informal networks, such maps/evidence might open new reasons for business to encourage volunteer involvement in such programs, while providing funding to pay for the general operations.

    So far I’ve not found anyone willing to take on such a project, nor have I run into anyone who has already started to do something with similar goals. If any of those reading this are interested in discussing the idea further, I’d be happy to connect.

    As I’ve developed my interest in social capital theory I’ve been archiving articles in my web library. Visit to find these.

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