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Best Practices in Campus-Based Mentoring

Information on campus-based mentoring from Campus Compact including why and how to implement programs.

What is Mentoring?

If the role model’s message is “Be like me,” the mentor’s implicit message says: “I will help you be whoever you want to be.” Young people need to hear and believe both messages.

The Forgotten Half: Pathways to Success for America’s Youth and Young Families. The William T. Grant Foundation Commission on Work, Family, and Citizenship.

In recent years, mentoring has emerged as a strong response to the plight of youth at-risk. On college and university campuses, mentoring programs have expanded rapidly with increasing numbers of college students working one-to-one with young people in schools, community agencies, and other settings.

The college student mentor is both a friend and a role model who supports and encourages a younger partner in his/her academic and personal growth. The mentor is also a guide who helps a young person make the difficult change from childhood to adolescence, from elementary to middle school to high school. This time of transition is especially important, for it is a time when young people are making decisions about how much — or how little—they can expect to achieve.

Mentors and young people develop their relationships as they participate together in social, cultural, and recreational activities, community service projects, tutoring, or any of the many different activities that friends enjoy. Whatever the activity, mentoring provides guidance and support to vulnerable adolescents and establishes service as an integral part of student life and the college experience.

Why Campus-Based?

Every college and university in the nation should have a strong, substantive, explicit, functional linkage with schools in its geographical area.David Hamburg, President, The Carnegie Corporation of America.

Mentoring programs can be based within schools, community agencies, businesses, churches, colleges and universities. Campus-based programs offer unique opportunities in mentoring with far-reaching benefits:

  • College campuses have a rich variety of academic, cultural, and recreational resources to expand a child’s horizons.
  • College students make excellent mentors because they are close enough in age to young people to establish strong relationships, yet mature enough to offer guidance.
  • Campus-based mentoring supports good citizenship. When mentoring programs combine work in the community with training and reflection, mentoring becomes a “real life” learning experience and a first step in a life-long commitment to service

Who Benefits from Mentoring Programs?

College Student Mentors:

  • Gain personal satisfaction
  • Develop patience, insight, and understanding
  • Learn lessons in citizenship through work with the community
  • May experience a cultural, social, or economic background different from their own
  • Improve leadership and communication skills
  • Gain experience for future careers in public service, social work, teaching, and more

Younger Partners:

  • Receive academic help
  • Learn study skills
  • Improve social skills
  • Have the attention of another caring adult
  • Discover new options and opportunities
  • Set goals for the future
Colleges and Universities:
  • Form stronger ties with their communities
  • Build better citizens through responsibility and service
  • Term potential school dropouts into potential college students
  • Support cross-cultural learning
  • Retain students by providing meaningful involvement
Schools:
  • Report improvements in student-teacher relations
  • See progress in school performance and in academic and social skills
  • Forge stronger ties with colleges, community groups, and parents
  • Receive additional student support services
  • Involve other caring adults in the education process

Steps to Planning, Implementing, and Managing a Mentoring Program

  1. Assess need. Find out what’s already going on in your community and what additional services are needed. Be alert to opportunities for cooperation and collaboration with others. Work with what is working. Make use of the expertise available and pool resources.
  2. Convene a planning or advisory board. Include campus administrators, school personnel, agency staff, business partners, parents, and students. Encourage the active involvement of teachers and parents.
  3. Set program goals and objectives. Design strategies to monitor your progress. Whether working to lower the dropout rate, improve school performance, enhance self-esteem, or teach new skills, be specific and realistic in stating your goals. Don’t forget the importance of short-term goals. Even small successes boost morale.
  4. Develop an evaluation plan. As you design your program, you must also design your evaluation strategy. Evaluation will enable you to identify strengths and weaknesses in your program, measure your overall success, and establish a basis for additional funding. Read the literature on evaluation, consult with campus faculty and the MRCs to develop your plan, and design evaluation instruments.
  5. Create an infrastructure for your program. Define the roles and responsibilities for staff and participants. Adequate staffing is essential. Staff provide supervision and support and make sure that mentor pairs are meeting regularly. This is especially important on college campuses where student volunteers have so many demands on their time.
  6. Assess your resources. Look for funding within your college or university, private foundations, local corporations, business and industry councils, state departments of education, and federal agencies. Look for other forms of support, too, including donations of goods and services to support a project, and recognize hard-working volunteers.
  7. Be knowledgeable about liability and confidentiality.Consult with your college/university risk management office. Be sure to take basic precautions including references for mentors; informed consent for program participation; permission slips for attending special events; and contracts for mentoring, young people, and parents. Call the Nonprofit Risk Management Center in Washington, D.C. to obtain copies of their publications.
  8. Hold a mentor orientation meeting. An information/orientation session allows you to present the important components of your program and gives potential mentors an opportunity to evaluate their readiness to volunteer. Mentors should expect to give a one-year commitment and devote at least three hours per week to one-on-one and group activities. Emphasize realistic expectations. Mentors cannot and should not be expected to solve all problems. Remember to present the rewards as well as the responsibilities of mentoring.
  9. Not everyone makes a good mentor. Screen out potential volunteers who don’t have the time, commitment, or maturity to be effective.
  10. Take care in selecting the younger participants.Sometimes a youngster’s needs or circumstances may be too problematic for a college-age mentor to address. Work closely with teachers, counselors, and agency personnel in identifying potential participants.
  11. Match pairs thoughtfully. Matching by race, gender and common interests can facilitate trust and help break the ice. Informal gatherings of mentors and young people can lead to “natural matches.”
  12. Prepare young people for the program and involve their parents. just as mentors want and need orientation, young people and their families must also understand the time commitment and requirements of the program. Family support can help young people stay involved.
  13. Mentor training is crucial. Training builds skins, provides new information, and introduces important issues that mentors will encounter. Mentor training should address adolescent development, communication skills, diversity/ cultural sensitivity, crisis management, conflict resolution, tutoring skins and more. Draw on the resources of campus faculty, local youth organizations to design mentor training programs. Programs should provide a minimum of 20 hours of orientation and training each academic year.
  14. Mentoring can be hard work. Mentors need support and encouragement throughout the year. Discussion and support meetings reduce frustration and enhance service learning by allowing mentors to share and compare experiences and solve problems together. Be sure mentors know when and how to reach program staff in case of a problem and plan regular reflection sessions to review progress. Mentoring programs can rise and fall on the strength of training and support provided for mentors.

What We Have Learned From Research

Public/Private Ventures has conducted research on both college-based and Big Brother/Big Sister mentoring programs. From their studies, we have learned:

  • Mentoring is time-consuming and college students have difficulty integrating it into their schedules. It may be necessary for students to restrict their participation in other activities.
  • It is important to establish set meeting times and try to overcome logistical obstacles such as transportation.
  • Rigorous screening of mentors results in better matches and higher attendance rates.
  • Mentor training and ongoing support are critical to the success of a program.
  • Regular supervision increases the success rate of matches.
  • The BB/BSA study found that 76% of minority youth were paired with mentors of a different race/culture. In these matches there was no significant difference in the frequency of meetings or interaction as compared to matches of the same race/culture.

Campus Partners in Learning

A Project of Campus Compact, 1988-1993

Since 1988, Campus Compact has provided leadership in the field of mentoring through grants from the Carnegie Corporation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Honeywell, Public/Private Ventures, the Commission on National and Community Service, and others. The Campus Partners in Learning (CPIL) project has:

  • Heightened national awareness of mentoring
  • Served 25,000 at-risk youth through mentoring programs
  • Awarded over 100 program development seed grants
  • Promoted community service as an integral part of the College experience
  • Transferred new knowledge from the field into publications on “best practices”
  • Initiated a comprehensive evaluation of CPIL mentoring programs in conjunction with Public/Private Ventures
  • Provided national leadership and technical assistance to hundreds of organizations, schools, and colleges
  • Established four regional Mentoring Resource Centers in Massachusetts, Michigan, Louisiana and California

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