What the Heck is Mentorship, Anyway?

Submitted by Glenn Middleton, M.S., of Western Carolina University.  Speak with Glenn about his research on mentorship during his poster presentation at the AEE International Conference.

What the heck is mentorship, anyway?

Like many terms that describe human interactions, the answer is that it depends upon those humans! Consequently, there are about as many definitions as there are people involved in mentoring research, program creation, and those relationships that encompass mentoring. One of the most holistic definitions I have come across is from Maryanne Jacobi, who uncovered distinct components of mentoring in her article, “Mentoring and Undergraduate Success: A Literature Review,” published in 1991. Those elements could be contained in a definition that might read like, “mentoring relationships are personal, helping, and reciprocal in which a more experienced person provides emotional/psychological support, direct assistance, and role modeling to a less experienced person.” Because this definition still sounds overly academic, allow me to personalize it a bit with a couple of examples.

While an adjunct instructor at a university, I had a teaching assistant (TA) who very much wanted to progress as both a rock climber, and an instructor of rock climbing. Not only would he and I have long conversations about climbing, but also about personal relationships and how climbing affected them. However, whenever he wanted to go climbing, I always had a schedule conflict. We never got to go climbing together. After he graduated, we stayed in sporadic contact, but drifted apart and now don’t connect at all.

In my graduate work, my advisor and I would have weekly philosophical discussions about some of my course work and how it connected to our personal experiences as climbing instructors at Outward Bound. These weekly meetings became more personal and course content was now being connected to personal and professional relationships, both past and present. We continue to forge these connections to this day.

If I can connect parts of each story to those components Jacobi uncovered, why did one mentoring relationship fail and the other succeed? After much reflection, I believe the answer to be related to intentionality—the reciprocated intentionality, to more precise. My relationship with my mentor, my graduate advisor, continues to this day because we were both intentional about creating opportunities to discuss what was on our minds. My relationship with my mentee, my former TA, doesn’t continue because I wasn’t reciprocating his intentionality to get together and go climbing.

To sum this post up, I believe that we need to say what we mean when we use a word like mentorship. Like me, I assume we all have personal and professional experiences wrapped up in the way we define this relationship. Unless we are intentional about trying to understand what components of one relationship make it a mentorship and another not a mentorship, we doom this relationship to “Kleenex land,” that land of generalization where assumption rules the day. If we go there, there is a real possibility that our perceived mentorships end up like mine and my TA’s mentoring relationship—finished. If we can reflect on what components, such as those uncovered by Maryanne Jacobi, make a particular relationship a mentorship, there is a real possibility that our perceived mentorships end up like mine and my graduate advisor—flourishing. The choice is ours to make.

Share this post:

Comments on "What the Heck is Mentorship, Anyway?"

Comments 0-5 of 0

Please login to comment