Profiles in Mentoring: A conversation with Veronica Fruiht

Written by Kirsten Christensen

Veronica Fruiht is an Assistant professor and researcher at Dominican University of California. Her research interests center around the construct of hope and mentoring relationships among young people. Specifically, Dr. Fruiht is interested in understanding and uncovering how hope and positive, supportive relationships influence adolescent and young adults’ academic goals and accomplishments.

 

Chronicle (C): How did you get involved in the field of mentoring?

Veronica Fruiht (VF): My first real introduction to mentoring research was when I was brought into the Sources of Good Mentoring Research Lab as a graduate student to work on a project specifically about mentoring teacher education, since I was interested in positive education. But, I was also doing my thesis research at the time on positive interventions for middle schoolers and high schoolers and hadn’t really thought much about how the two projects intersected.

Then, I sort of lucked my way into a job working at a community college as what they called a Success Guide, which was sort of like a training program for academic advising. What I found there working one on one with community college students was that the difference between those who were successful and those who weren’t was whether they had someone in their life that knew how to go to college. A lot of the students had parents or really supportive family members, but if they didn’t have anyone who knew anything about how to choose classes, get textbooks, and sign up for things; they just floundered.

That was what led me into my dissertation project looking at mentoring in college students and emerging adults. So, I sort of folded my way into mentoring from two directions and it just came together really nicely.

 

C: In addition to the work you do on mentoring, a lot of your research revolves around the construct of hope. How do you see the construct of hope fitting in with the mentoring research you do, and how do those two intersect?

VF: The big idea behind the construct of hope is that people who are successful at achieving goals have both the “will” or the agency to achieve their goal, and are good at coming up with “ways” to do that. There are all of these interventions to build hope that are about teaching people how have agency and develop pathways.

What I noticed in research was that most of those interventions really emphasized having someone that was there to coach them through the process and develop hope. [I started researching] how mentors and supportive adults – especially in the lives of adolescents – can help them learn to be more hopeful. A lot of the work I do in mentoring is looking at those functions around goal setting and goal achievement.

Hope fit really nicely there, and was a good way of combining my interest in hope that I had been working on with this idea of mentoring and how mentors might be able to actually teach us to be more hopeful. There’s also a good amount of research that seeing a hopeful exemplar can really make people more hopeful, so I think it’s one way to encompass a lot of the mentoring functions we talk about.

 

C: What else can you tell us about some of your current or most recent research projects?

VF: Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of work with the Add Health dataset (the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent and Adult Health). There is an open-ended question in the dataset about mentoring, which is, “What did this person do for you?” I’ve been working with two undergraduate research assistants to code responses to that question in the whole publicly available dataset, and we’ve just finally [finished].

My colleague Thomas Chan and I just sent out a paper looking at the mentoring functions for first generation college students and how those differ from the mentoring functions perceived by continuing generation students. Our next step is probably to better understand whether different types of mentors might support students differently.

One of my first projects using the Add Health dataset was looking at mentor type and how it can predict different outcomes. For instance, we know that teacher mentors are really good at predicting positive educational outcomes, but, is that because people who are good at making friends with their teachers are more likely to go to college? Is it about the difference the mentors are making? Or is it just about the type of person that finds a teacher mentor? So, one goal in looking at different types of mentoring functions is seeing whether different types of mentors are having a different type of impact, or if it is partly just a result of individual characteristics in terms of who finds those mentoring relationships.

 

C: So, you’ve talked quite a bit about your research and different findings that you’ve come across throughout your time in academia. Are there any particular findings that were interesting or unexpected that you’d like to highlight or talk more about?

VF: As someone who studies hope, there’s a lot of overlap with the religion and spirituality literature. I’m not a religious person, and I had no goal to set out and study religion, but all of a sudden, I found myself reading the work of religion scholars. As we were coding all of those adolescents’ responses from the Add Health data set, we started seeing this code of “helped me spiritually” or “supported my connection with a higher power.” For my dissertation, I had been collecting data in community colleges, and I asked students that same question of “what did this [mentor] do for you?” and I saw it show up even more. That may be partly because of the community I was working with. I was in southern California, [where there] was a heavily Latinx population, so, that could be part of the reason why I saw this trend emerge. I thought it was interesting since I had never seen the literature, outside of religious leaders being really supportive in young people’s lives. It was interesting to see this spirituality code show up because it really hasn’t been talked about much.

 

C: Have there any books, articles, or resources that have been particularly impactful for you and your research?

VF: Well absolutely the Rhodes et al. (2006) paper1 that laid out the three big types of youth mentoring functions. That’s one that I come back to. The other one that I find myself citing all the time is Erickson et al. (2009)2. I always find myself coming back to it, and I think, “I need to find a different citation for this,” but it captures so much!

Because my training was in a mentoring lab that looked at career mentoring functions, I have also been really influenced by [Kathy] Kram and her colleagues, and I’ve a been really interested in some of the work she did with [Monica] Higgins3 around developmental networks., I haven’t really seen that model applied to the undergraduate population as much as you’d think. I really like this idea of looking at how lots of different people wrap around a young person to help them be successful.

 

C: In terms of near or distant future, where do you plan for your work to keep going?

VF: As I mentioned, one thing I’m interested in looking at as the next step is how different types of mentors can provide different types of functions. Also, I have not written up any work on the developmental networks piece, but I’ve got all my dissertation data sitting in a box in my office, so I’d really like to dive into that.

I’ve got all of these community college students’ responses about people who they nominated as their mentors (not just one, but up to as many as they wanted, [usually about] five). I’d really like to dig into that data a little more and learn more about these wrap-around networks of support.

 

C: What would you consider to be the key qualities or effective practices of a good mentor?

VF: I would say a good mentor is good at developing hope, but that’s my bias! A good mentor is good at helping people set goals and continue to have that motivation to work towards them. I think that may be one place where some of the socio-emotional supports come in – having someone who’s there encouraging [and] supporting you, who is in your corner, but can also come in and play this role of helping you set the concrete steps to help you get there. So, being able to come up with the pathways.

In my dissertation data, I found that people who were reporting lots of socio-emotional support and had lots of people wrapping around them were more likely to feel like they had the agency to achieve their goals, but didn’t always know how to get there. [Alternatively,] people who had this really pragmatic mentoring of, “you do this, this, and this,” were the people who were good at developing pathways so they knew how to achieve their goals and what to do when they encountered a problem.

So, I think it’s important that a good mentor knows how to balance those two things, or help you to find someone who can. So, if you have an aunt who is there to be your emotional support, is she going to encourage you to go find someone who can really help you take the steps you need to get [to your goal]? Or, if you have a professor who is there to help with problem solving, is that person also encouraging you to find someone who you can rely on to be that emotional support?

 

C: Did you have any mentors growing up? If so, how did they impact you?

VF: I ask myself that question when I’m coding this data like, “Who would I have named as my mentor?” I had a good friend’s mom who was one of those people who was just always there. She was definitely my psychosocial support outside of the home. She was the person that I could go to with any type of problem growing up and who would French braid my hair and let me vent about my problems.

But, as I moved into academia, I think my mentoring relationships really changed. I moved from looking so much for that psychosocial support that I had been getting from my friend’s mom, to really being able to connect with academic mentors like my undergraduate mentor, Jasna Jovanovic, at Cal Poly. I was a sophomore and sent her a pretty terribly composed email asking to work with her and she took me on and taught me how to do research. If she hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be here by any means.

So, I would say those are the two people that before my graduate school career really stick out as mentors. They both played really important roles, but in completely different ways.

 

 

1 Rhodes, J. E., Spencer, R., Keller, T. E., Liang, B., & Noam, G. (2006). A model for the

influence of mentoring relationships on youth development. Journal of Community Psychology34(6), 691-707.

2 Erickson, L. D., McDonald, S., & Elder, G. J. (2009). Informal mentors and education: Complementary or compensatory resources?. Sociology of Education, 82(4), 344-367. doi:10.1177/003804070908200403

3Higgins, M.C., & Kram, K.E. (2001). Reconceptualizing mentoring at work: A developmental network perspective. Academy of Management Review, 26(2), 264–288.

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