To reach and graduate from college, students need a network of adults that support their development, academic success, and access to opportunity, writes Julia Freeland Fisher for EdSurge.
High school seniors who have a network of supportive adults are more likely to earn better grades, report higher aspirations, and participate more frequently in college-preparatory activities, according to research from Search Institute. And students who have had seven or more meaningful mentor relationships during college are over three times more likely than the average graduate to say college was a rewarding experience, according to a poll from Elon University.
Mentors can help students “define and express [their] inner calling,” says leadership expert Anthony Tjan. “But rarely can one person give you everything you need to grow.” In a TED Talk, Tjan identifies five types of mentors every student needs.
1: The expert. If students want to be the best in their field, they should seek out “the most iconic figures in that area,” says Tjan. Students might find this mentor among faculty or alumni who work in the field they’re interested in. These mentors “help [students] identify, realize and hone [their] strengths towards the closest state of perfection as possible,” adds Tjan.
2: The champion. “These are people who are advocates and who have [a student’s] back,” says Tjan. These mentors help students land opportunities and connect them to other helpful individuals.
3: The copilot. Every students need a peer who will act as a sounding board, advisor, and supporter. This relationship works best when it’s reciprocal, says Tjan. The students should be “committed to supporting each other, collaborating with each other, and holding each other accountable. And when [students] have a copilot, both the quality of [their] work and [their] engagement level improve,” he adds.
4: The anchor. “We’re all going to hit speed bumps and go through uncertainty in life,” says Tjan. “So we need someone who can give us a psychological lift and help us see light through the cracks during challenging times.” A friend or family member can help students persist when they encounter obstacles to graduation.
5: The mentee. “When we say the word ‘mentor,’ we often conjure up the image of an older person or teacher,” says Tjan. “But I think the counterpoint is as important.” Students who have mentor roles on campus should use the opportunity to “collect feedback on [their] leadership style, engage with the younger generation, and keep [their] perspectives fresh and relevant,” recommends Tjan.
How colleges connect students to mentors
Colleges understand that many first-generation and low-income students arrive on campus without a support network of college-savvy adults. To help these students navigate life on campus and the job market, institutions are working to connect students to potential mentors.
For example, the career center at the University of California at Berkeley held a conference for its first-generation students where they could network with first-generation alumni and employers. During the conference, the alumni and employers offered college and career advice. Similarly, Elon launched an Odyssey Scholar program to connect first-gen students with faculty and peer mentors at the start of college.
Students can also build networks from meaningful on- and off-campus experiences, rather than relying entirely on career office-sponsored networking events. Networking can happen through student organizations, at professional conferences in their chosen field, or on social media (Fawal, TED Ideas, 9/18/18; Freeland Fisher, EdSurge, 9/28/18).
The students who stand to benefit the most from mentors are often those who are least likely to have one.