How Storytelling Can Strengthen Bonds Between Mentors and Mentees

Cruz, J., Goff, M. H., & Marsh, J. P. (2020). Building the mentoring relationship: Humanism and the importance of storytelling between mentor and mentee. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 28(2), 104-125.


This study of mentoring for high school seniors explored a “humanistic mentoring” approach that emphasized reciprocity, mutuality, and empathy in the mentor-mentee relationship. The authors posited that sharing personal stories between mentors and mentees can foster such stronger relationships. Their primary research question was: What are the perceptions of the high school seniors about their participation in a mentoring program that emphasized storytelling?

Research has highlighted the benefits of mentoring for facilitating college transitions, particularly for underrepresented minority and first-generation students. Within this context, mentor-mentee relationship is seen as vital– so that the relationships are not just  imparting knowledge or advice. Storytelling is proposed as a means to build connection and mutual understanding in mentoring relationships.


The mentoring program (Prep-to-College or PTC) involved 8 doctoral student mentors and approximately 95 high school senior mentees across 5 classrooms at the urban, Title 1 charter school. Most mentees were low-income Hispanic students. Mentoring sessions occurred biweekly for 45 minutes over one semester.

Mentors used icebreaker activities to get to know mentees’ interests, then allowed mentees to pose questions about college. Mentors shared personal stories related to mentees’ concerns, modeling vulnerability and reciprocal sharing. Mentors aimed to develop trusting relationships where mentees felt comfortable expressing fears about college.

After the program, the authors interviewed 13 mentees (6 Hispanic females, 6 Hispanic males, 1 Caucasian male) to assess their perceptions of the humanistic, storytelling-based mentoring. Interviews were transcribed and thematically coded for instances of reciprocity/mutuality, empathy, and mentions of storytelling fostering relationship development.


Analysis revealed 9 instances of mentees discussing mutuality/reciprocity, 3 instances of empathy, and 10 instances of storytelling facilitating relationship building. Mentees appreciated feeling recognized as individuals by mentors and being able to share their own stories. One mentee felt inspired by a mentor’s passion for learning. Several mentees described feeling emotionally validated and that their concerns were normal through mentors’ personal stories of challenges adjusting to college.

The authors provide several illustrative quotes demonstrating how storytelling helped mentees visualize potential college experiences and feel connected to mentors’ perspectives:

  • One mentor shared feelings of disappointment and alienation related to the party culture at her school. The authors note “stories shared by mentors generally showed elements of the mentors’ own feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, or uncertainty regarding their early college experiences.”
  • Another mentee commented on a mentor sharing her college experience: “I think it was helpful. It always helps me to know how a different person takes their own approach…It gives me a range of options to see how I’m going to turn up in colleges.”

The authors note that “through personal stories, mentees developed a sense of what to expect as they entered college…the mentoring program was not only successful in developing relationships, but it helped the mentees’ perception that they were better prepared for college.” These examples illustrate how the mentors’ personal stories and sharing of experiences helped the mentees feel connected to them, validated in their concerns about college, and better prepared for what to expect in the college environment. The storytelling fostered relationship building and mutual understanding and can be used in other programs to build strong bonds.