Can mentoring create better citizens: These findings suggest so!

Editor’s note: For years, scholars have argued that one of the benefits of serving as a mentor is that it awakens the adult to the problems facing today’s youth. Many of us have seen the potential benefits of connecting middle-class voters with at-risk youth. Mentoring provides a lens through which  middle-class adults can see the ravages of poverty: decrepit schools with stressed teachers, unsafe neighborhoods, deteriorating housing, and other difficult circumstances. Although many Americans may already know that nearly one in four children in our wealthy democracy lives in poverty, this inequality somehow remains compartmentalized and largely ignored in our day-to-day lives. Yet, deeply connecting with one child in poverty through a mentoring relationship can illuminate its pernicious effects, potentially mobilizing more sustained, authentic action. Support for a coordinated, public response to the out-of-school needs of school-aged youth is more likely to emerge when mentors see how their mentees problems multiply during unsupervised hours. In doing so, mentoring programs are able to develop new constituencies’ for PYD programs and policies. Mentors’ negative stereotypes have also been challenged by the many sources of strength in low-income and minority neighborhoods. When middle class mentors bear witness to caring that exists in families, religious institutions, and grassroots community organizations, and to the level of commitment, tenacity, and courage that many low-income parents marshal in support of their children, it remains much more difficult to blame the victim. A study of students participating in Campus Connections affirms these ideas. 

Weiler, L., Haddock, S., Zimmerman, T. S., Krafchick, J., Henry, K. & Rudisill, S. (2013). Benefits Derived by College Students from Mentoring At-Risk Youth in a Service-Learning Course. American Journal of Community Psychology, 236-248.

Summary of Study (reprinted from the Abstract):

Service learning is increasingly being used as a pedagogical strategy for promoting the development of

civic-mindedness among university students. Despite the use of this strategy, little is known about the benefits derived from specific types of service-learning experiences. Additionally, few notable studies have examined the unique outcomes experienced by mentors of at-risk youth. Therefore, this study examines the civic-related benefits that college students derive from mentoring at-risk youth within a structured, service-learning course.

A series of linear regression models were estimated to determine if there were significant post-intervention differences between the treatment and comparison condition for the variables of interest,

after adjusting for key background factors and pre-intervention levels of all variables.

The results indicated that, in comparison to college students who did not participate in the course (n = 258), college student in Campus Corps, a youth mentoring program, (n = 390) had significantly higher scores at post-intervention regarding mentors’ civic attitudes, community service self-efficacy, self-esteem, interpersonal and problem solving skills, political awareness, and civic action. Findings hold important implications for youth mentoring programs and future research.

Implications (reprinted from the Discussion section):

The present study is the first known study to quantitatively examine the outcomes experienced by university students as a result of participating in a service-learning course in which they serve as mentors to at-risk youth. … Through participation in Campus Corps, students reported motivation and empowerment to become civically-engaged citizens. More specifically, students reported the belief that it is every person’s responsibility to use their time and talents to help solve social problems. Moreover, students reported personal commitments to remain civically engaged in their community in the future. This sense of civic responsibility is an important outcome of service learning (Bringle and Hatcher 1995 ; Godfrey et al. 2005 ).

Compared to students who did not participate in the service learning course or engage in a mentoring relationship, Campus Corps students reported a greater awareness of current politics. This difference may be a result of engaging in a meaningful relationship with mentees (Philip and Hendry 2000 ), mentees’ families, Campus Corps staff, and community agencies (Godfrey et al. 2005 ). Through this type of reciprocity and respect for service recipients, students may gain a better understanding of issues facing their local community and may be better suited to assume influential and effective community roles (Bringle and Steinberg 2010 ; Godfrey et al.). Similarly, Campus Corps students reported confidence that they would find situations in which their effort and skills could be applied to produce tangible benefits to their community.