Naturally-occurring mentoring relationships with caring, nonparental adults can provide critical support to underrepresented students during the transition to college. The current study sought to examine the nature of underrepresented students’ relationships with natural mentors during their first three semesters in college. Results revealed that participants perceived greater relational closeness with natural mentors who were extended family members or family friends compared to natural mentors from other categories (e.g., natural mentors who were teachers). Moreover, natural mentors who were extended family or family friends provided greater levels of emotional, appraisal, informational, and instrumental support to students relative to natural mentors who were former teachers or other school staff. Natural mentors who were college faculty or staff provided more informational support than natural mentors who were family or family friends. Findings have implications for understanding intergenerational mentoring relationships that may promote resilient outcomes among underrepresented students transitioning to elite, predominantly white colleges and universities.
It is encouraging that students appeared to be continuing to access multiple types of support from familial/family friend natural mentors from their home communities, and to report particularly high degrees of closeness within these relationships, even as many move away from home to begin college. Support offered by close ties from home might help to mitigate distress and increase feelings of self-worth in the context of marginalizing experiences that underrepresented college students tend to face as they transition to and through college at predominantly white institutions
Students reported receiving informational support from faculty and staff at college more frequently than from familial/family friend natural mentors, despite the fact that these relationships were less relationally close and formed much more recently. This finding is consistent with a growing body of literature highlighting a key role for college faculty and staff as mentors to underrepresented students (e.g., Hurd et al., 2017Hurd, N. M., Albright, J., Wittrup, A., Négréte, A., & Billingsley, J. (2018).
As students adjust to the social norms and academic rigors of college, it makes sense that they would turn to relationships with college faculty and staff more often for advice and suggestions about aspects of college life (e.g., course selection, research opportunities), especially if they are first-generation college students whose family members and/or friends from home might have limited exposure to aspects of a four-year college education. These close relationships with faculty and staff can play an important role in students’ social and academic integration into college, as well as college persistence, at least in part because these adults serve as unique sources of institutional knowledge for students
The results suggest that it is also crucial to support the maintenance of students’ natural mentoring relationships with extended family members and family friends from home, given the breadth and depth of support provided by these individuals. Stronger institutional support of broad natural mentoring networks in these ways is one important aspect of promoting resilient outcomes among underrepresented students as they encounter the array of stressors associated with transitioning to academic and social life at elite predominantly white institutions.