“It is not necessary to organize a trip to the moon:” A mixed-method study of mentoring during COVID-19

Marino, C., Gaboardi, M., Kaufman, M. R., Bonichini, S., Bergamin, M., Canale, N., & Santinello, (2022). “It is not necessary to organize a trip to the moon”: A mixed method study with mentors in the Italian Mentor-UP program during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning. 


Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Italy was one of the first countries in Europe to enforce social distancing and lockdowns at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The outbreak had a negative effect on youths’ social, behavioral, & emotional outcomes, especially for those who came from underrepresented backgrounds.
  • Mentoring has the potential to address this.
  • This journal article conducted two studies to examine Mentor-Up mentors’ experiences during the pandemic and how the program adapted to mentoring dyad’s needs.
    • Study 1 (quantitative) tests the relationship between the frequency of mentor-mentee communication, mentor-perceived support from staff, reported mentorship relationship quality & mentors’ experiences with burnout.
    • Study 2 (qualitative) assesses a) how the pandemic impacted communication between mentors and mentees, b) how COVID-19 has affected mentees, and c) if mentors were able to mitigate the effects.
  • Mentors’ perceived support from staff correlated with reduced burnout, which, in turn, negatively correlated with online communication frequency.
  • Online communication frequency positively correlated with mentoring relationship quality.
  • Several themes & subthemes emerged from the qualitative results:
    • Mentor-mentee communication
      • Frequency & mode of communication
      • Communication challenges
    • Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on mentees’ everyday life
      • Mentees’ boredom & need for relationships
      • Mentor concerns about their mentees’ well-being & their socio-economic environment.
    • Mentors’ concerns & support for mentees
      • Direct to mentee & indirect to their family
    • Being a mentor during the COVID-19 pandemic
      • The desire for a more two-way relationship
      • The need for interactive technologies & skills
      • Importance of program support
  • Although online mentoring interactions are different from in-person interactions, they had an important role in providing support for youth.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

This study used a mixed methods approach to explore the experience of mentors involved in the Mentor-UP program during the COVID-19 pandemic in Padova, Italy. In Study 1, a total of 53 mentors completed an online questionnaire at the end of the program. Results of the path analysis showed that mentors’ perceived support from the program staff was associated with lower levels of psycho-physical burnout, which in turn was negatively associated with online communication frequency, and the latter was positively associated with mentoring relationship quality. Study 2 analyzed in more detail the mentor-mentee relationships during the pandemic and specifically how COVID-19 may have affected the program. Two online focus groups were conducted and transcripts analyzed using thematic analysis. Results indicated that online mentoring interactions, although different from face-to-face, were valuable and allowed the establishment of supportive relationships for youth. Findings suggest program staff should provide constant support to mentors.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The current studies extended our knowledge of how mentoring relationships adapted through the use of technology during the COVID-19 pandemic by analysing the case of the Italian Mentor-UP program. In line with the first study on this topic conducted by Kaufman et al. (2021a) in the United States, our studies showed that mentor-mentee pairs stayed in touch since the start of social distancing despite mentees’ difficulties accessing the Internet and having to autonomously use technological tools to communicate with mentors. Results of the quantitative study expanded Kaufman’s work by showing that the pairs mostly communicated via WhatsApp and other social media at least weekly, with many mentors reporting greater communication frequency. However, mentees rarely reached out to their mentors spontaneously. Despite a higher communication frequency, mentors pointed out during the OFGs that their communication with mentees was of lower quality and mostly unidirectional.

In Study 1, mentors held several concerns related to mentees’ well-being, especially with regard to the negative impact on academics due to school closures, family financial implications, psychological consequences of the pandemic, and challenges in their home environment. These issues were explored further in the OFGs, where mentors explained their concerns about mentees’ well-being (psycho-physical) and their low socioeconomic environments. Mentees’ lives were characterized by higher boredom, loneliness, uncertainty, and challenges with online school, as confirmed by another study in the Italian context (Orgilés, Morales, Delvecchio, Mazzeschi, & Espada, 2020).

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