Cory the Great!: How mentors’ attitudes/expectations shape relationships and outcomes

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 12.17.45 PMIn Matilda Cuomo’s book, “The Person Who Changed My Life,” NJ Senator Cory Booker describes how his grandfather’s expectations shaped his life. The article below shows how both positive and negative expectations can shape mentoring ties.

“Everything my grandfather did was bold, proud, and loud–not one of us could enter a room without him becoming animated with focus and attention, yelling words of encouragements and pronouncements of praise. For me, he would call me “Cory the Great” with such a sense of certainty that I believed it. I was teased by other family members because, as a young toddler, I repeated my grandfather’s insistences–“I’m Cory the Great! Each one of his grandchildren was made to feel special, believing our grandfather saw within us something amazing, believing that we had buried within us a destiny that he knew about, celebrated, and repeated over and over. he had us convinced and made us have a belief that was fundamental to success in any endeavor, a belief in ourselves”

Karcher, M. J., Davidson, A. J., Rhodes, J. E., & Herrera, C. (2010). Pygmalion in the program: The role of teenage peer mentors’ attitudes in shaping their mentees’ outcomes. Applied Developmental Science, 14(4), 212-227.


Cross-age peer mentoring programs have become more popular in recent years, but there is little research evaluating the efficacy of these programs. Furthermore, previous research has suggested that not all mentees benefit equally from peer mentoring, and not all high school mentors are able to provide intensive, empathic mentoring for at-risk mentees.

Karcher, Davidson, Rhodes, and Herrera (2010) studied whether high school students with more positive attitudes and positive expectations about their mentees’ abilities would form stronger relationships and have more positive outcomes.


Participants were recruited from school-based mentoring programs in 71 schools affiliated with 10 Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies across the United States. Over 200 teenaged high school volunteers and 180 mentees (between 4th and 9th grade) participated in this study. Two profiles of youth were found: academically disconnected  and academically connected youth.

Prior to being matched, mentors were asked about their attitudes and expectations

The scale asked mentors to rate how many “kids in your community” could be characterized by indicators of youth development:

  • work hard at school
  •  respect adults
  • are trouble-makers
  • are fun to be around
  • expect things to be handed to them
  • try to do their best
  • are interested in learning


Academically disconnected mentees who were paired with mentors who held positive attitudes toward youth were more emotionally engaged in the mentoring relationship than those with more negative mentors, and reported stronger relationships with their teachers at the end of the school year than disconnected youth in the control group.

Conclusion and Implications

The attitudes that mentors held, even before they are ever matched, can shape the quality and effects of the subsequent relationship. Negative attitudes can be particularly problematic when teenaged mentors are matched with academically disconnected youth.

Mentors who held more positive attitudes were more likely to view their role as helping mentees feel good about themselves, and less likely to report that their preferred strategy was to provide structure.

Mentors who held more negative attitudes were slightly more likely to view their role as being a disciplinarian, which may have created an expectation of misbehavior.

Mentors’ preexisting beliefs may be related to the ways that mentors structure conversations and react to their mentees’ behaviors, which may create a self-fulfilling prophecy in which mentors help to create the child whom they expected to

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