Defining Mentoring in Higher Education

"The term mentor stems from Greek mythology in which Odysseus entrusted the care and education of his child to a friend named Mentor while the father was away on his adventures and travels. Mentoring has come to be used for a variety of relationships. Some of its synonyms include role model, coach, guide, sponsor, friend, and advisor.  The term mentee or protégé means one whose welfare, training or career is promoted by an influential person.

Here is a sampling of definitions from mentoring literature. {46}

  • Mentoring is a lifelong relationship in which a mentor helps a protégé reach her or his God-given potential (Biehl, 19).
  • Mentoring provides, first, an instrumental or career function (e.g., sponsorship, coaching, corporate culture instruction), and second, an intrinsic or psychosocial function (e.g., serving as a model, a confidant, a friend) (Cunningham, 443).
  • Mentoring is a power-free partnership between two individuals who desire mutual growth. One of the individuals usually has greater skills, experiences, and wisdom (Weinstein, 11).

The person offering the mentoring is usually referred to as a mentor, while the recipient or partner may be identified as a mentee or protégé."

- From Mentoring in Higher Education, Ron Penner.

Mentoring in Higher Education

Formal mentoring within higher education offers a structured approach to developing the talents and abilities of an individual working in an educational environment.  A formal mentoring process capitalizes on the skills and experiences of successful individuals (mentors) in the institution who are committed to helping other staff or faculty grow, in turn enhancing the institution.

In the context of higher education, such relationships can occur in one or more of the following settings:

Senior faculty with junior faculty: These relationships can be one-to-one or even a team identified to work with a new or emerging faculty member for the purposes of networking and professional or personal development.

Experienced staff with emerging staff: These relationships are generally about  changing ones’ profession or enhancing oneself in the working environment.  They too can address personal and/or professional development issues.

Experienced staff or faculty with other experienced staff or faculty: These relationships can be to expand the mentees’ sense of competence, identity, and effectiveness as professionals, and to further develop their networks.

In addition to these there are faculty with student relationships, which can increase the success and retention of students.

Benefits of Mentoring

As a partner in a mentor-mentee relationship, the mentee's role is primarily to learn from the experiences and professional attributes of the mentor. However, the mentee's role is not a passive one; the mentee has a responsibility to actively pursue self development, be willing to seek out and accept broader responsibilities and, when necessary, to be mobile: functionally, organizationally, or geographically. The mentee is not a "sponge" whose main task is to soak up the wisdom of the mentor, but rather one who has set professional goals and seeks the guidance of one more experienced in achieving these goals.

For Mentors

  • Transference of expertise
  • Opportunities to translate values and strategies into actions
  • Gain further insights/alternative perspectives about the institution as a whole
  • Gain insights into other areas of the institution
  • Additional investment of time/expertise for the future benefit of the institution
  • Increased influence on the institution's mission and goals

For Mentees

  • Expansion of personal network
  • Sounding board for ideas/plans
  • Increased self-awareness and discipline
  • Potential to accelerate development and growth
  • Positive and constructive feedback on personal and professional development issues

For the Institution

  • Strengthen institutional culture
  • Positively impact retention
  • Leverage talent across organization
  • Increase “workplace satisfaction” of individuals involved in mentoring
  • Uncover latent talent
  • Increase communication within the organization, particularly non-hierarchical pathways