Peer mentoring is a form of peer support where students typically from a higher level of study will support students in lower years of study, for example and second or third year student supporting a first year student.
Peer mentoring involves mentors providing guidance and support to mentees by facilitating student interactions. Peer mentors should be trained to help them support mentees appropriately. By training mentors they can better understand how to support students, such as not attempting to be role models per se, or provide answers to academic queries. Mentors facilitate support for mentees to become self-supporting and to become more independent learners.
What is it?
Peer mentors provide guidance, support and practical advice to mentees who are close in age and share common characteristics and experiences. Mentees are able to speak to someone who can relate to them as they have been through the same university experience and understand the ups and downs of life as a student. A more pastoral approach is taken by schemes referred to as peer mentoring, allowing mentors to impart their knowledge, attitude, skills and wisdom on to mentees.
Peer mentoring programmes are designed to foster positive outcomes. Some of the key aims for peer mentoring are to:
- Facilitate students’ academic and social integration into the setting
- Challenge students to strive for certain goals
- Help students develop the necessary skills
- Aid students in coping with challenges
- Provide students with moral support
- Share key resources and opportunities
Although peer mentoring has many benefits, it also has potential limitations such as:
- Expectations and objectives may not always be clearly understood by the mentee and mentor, thus creating confusion (Tabbron et al., 1997).
- Some mentees could want more academic support from the scheme than is available and of feeling that their trust in their mentor to deliver has been breached (Maynard, 2000).
- Mentoring may cause stress for mentors (Earnshaw, 1995).
- Conflicting messages from staff, lack of consistency in meeting mentees, absenteeism of mentees and frustration of mentors by lack of impact on mentee are all potential problems that could arise (Jucovy, 2000).
- Mentors may find it difficult to balance both the specific requirements and personal desire to do well as mentors with time and other commitments (Colvin and Ashman, 2010).
- Mentors could get emotionally attached to their mentees and find it difficult to ‘let go’ at the end of the semester (Colvin and Ashman, 2010).
Does it work?
Much research and case studies have shown that peer mentoring has many benefits for mentors, mentees, staff and HE settings.
- Mentoring experiences positively influence the student’s level of social and academic integration into university life (Carragher and Mcgaughey (2016).
- It promotes independent living, gives students a better transition experience and enables them to become more engaged and committed to the university (Andrews, 2011).
- It helps new students ‘fit in’ to university life (Topping, 1996).
- Peer mentoring programmes have been successful in improving academic achievement of low achieving, first-year students (Salinitri, 2005).
A study conducted in the UK by Collings et al., (2014) indicated peer support schemes offer higher levels of integration to university and lower levels of intention to leave university. Students benefit from peer mentoring by receiving social support, skill development, access to information, and a sense of belonging.
Yomtov et al., (2015) examined the effectiveness of a peer mentoring programme at a University in California and discovered mentored students compared with non-mentored students reported a significantly greater increase in integration and connection to the university since being mentored. Students viewed their mentor very favourably and reported numerous benefits of the programme.
Colvin and Ashman (2010) investigated a peer mentoring program at a university in the US. Mentors reported three benefits to their role as being able to support students, reapplying concepts in their own lives and developing connections themselves. Mentees reported having mentors connected them to campus and helped them succeed with their class work. One student reported their mentor helped them to figure out financial aid and residency. Over half of the students stated individual attention as a main benefit of the programme and having a friend or someone to help them one on one. Women focused on the benefits of having a friend and a support system. Men indicated the biggest benefit was that they learned more because they had help from an equal or peer.
Thalluri et al., (2014) found mentees liked being able to ask questions in a comfortable environment, they found it helpful being in a group and having things explained simply. Mentees stated they found their leaders very helpful, they felt as though they were not alone and they felt more confident seeking help from mentors than from those in higher positions. Mentors believed their time was spent productively, they gained a strong sense of responsibility and a sense of belonging in a group.
Schmidt and Faber (2016) found in their study that benefits for mentees included improved self-confidence and wellbeing, short-term and long-term career planning, developing and optimising professional profile and strengthening and establishing networks locally and internationally. Benefits for mentors were improved leadership qualities, achieve self-awareness, developed collegiality and improved mentoring and communication skills and tools Benefits for the institution included a strengthened learning environment by establishing an effective support culture, expanding networks, enhancing departmental and institutional spirit and cohesiveness and promoting teamwork and cooperation.
Cornelius et al., (2016) found mentoring experiences positively influence students’ levels of social and academic integration into university life. Giving student mentees discretion in selecting mentors using an online matching process was viewed favourably by mentees. The provision of face-to-face and online training materials and training sessions helped students become familiar with the programme and better understand the requirements. Face-to-face orientation and training materials were essential. Regular and frequent meetings between mentors and mentees and programme commitment from mentors and mentees were critical. Meeting three times during a 12-week session, the number of meetings held during this programme, facilitated the development of positive mentoring relationships.
The implementation of a peer mentoring programme varies in different HE
Institutions. Listed below are implementations of successful peer mentoring programmes at several universities.
Colvin and Ashman’s (2010) study
This is based on a Wastern US university.
- Students from the first year experience class were primarily recruited specifically to become mentors for that same class.
- Interested students took a mentoring leadership class.
- The classes focused on mentors learning the theory of peer mentoring, including understanding the roles of a mentor, developing cultural sensitivity, enhancing communication skills, developing and maintaining relationships, managing time, and facilitating learning.
Wingrove et al.'s (2017) study
This peer mentoring model that was established within a Built Environment School.
- All mentors were required to complete five hours of mentoring training.
- The training included a focus on attributes of the mentor, the boundaries between the role of the mentor versus teacher, skills and strategies to facilitate learning through working with peers, intercultural communication, relationship building and understanding different learning styles.
- Mentors were required to contribute a minimum of fifteen hours mentoring for each semester.
University of Zaragoza (2015)
- Faculty heads selected student mentors under the Office of the Vice-Chancellor of Students and Employment guidance.
- Student mentors must have passed at least 50% of degree credits and must exhibit strong social skills and self-motivation.
- Faculties assigned students to mentoring groups depending on the availability of student mentors in each programme. In most cases, assignments were made automatically for all incoming first year students.
- There is an online peer mentoring programme activity registration system available through the ICE website which lists mentorship meetings between mentors and mentees, an annual calendar of activities for program participants, a student mentor guide provided at the start of the school year and an online database where mentors must report on mentoring activities under a personal username and password.
- Mentors were required to attend initial presentation and training meetings of the peer mentoring programme organised by the Office of the Vice-Chancellor at the beginning of the academic year.
- Mentors were required to meet with their mentees at least twice each semester and provide a brief summary of engagements with their mentees via standardised online records.
University of Manchester (2019)
- Mentors are required to maintain weekly contact with their mentees including meetings.
- Mentors must attend three training sessions before their first meeting with their mentee.
- The first session is ‘Intro to Peer Mentoring’ and is 90 minutes long. This session sets out the role expectations, the tasks they will be expected to do and the skills they will use and develop.
- The second session is ‘Mentoring in Practice’ and is a half-day session. This allows mentors to experience mentoring first hand and practice their techniques in a safe environment.
- The last session is ‘Mentor Debrief’ which is 90 minutes and is a scheme-specific session aimed to plan and set goals for the upcoming year.