Navigating the Pandemic Storm: The Link Between Mentoring and Mental Health in College Science & Engineering Students

Reference: Saw, G. K., Chang, C. N., Lin, S., Hernandez, P. R., & Culbertson, R. (2023). Disparities in mentoring and mental health problems of US college students in science and engineering during the COVID-19 pandemic. Educational Psychology, 43(5), 509-530.

Summarized by: Ellen Parry Luff

About the Study

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated mental health challenges among college students worldwide, particularly for women, racial/ethnic minorities, individuals of lower socioeconomic status, and disabled students. Advisors and mentors have played a crucial role in supporting students during this challenging period, relying on various remote communication tools to maintain connections. However, the nuances and effectiveness of these mentoring experiences remain unclear, especially for historically underrepresented groups in science and engineering fields who have been particularly impacted by the pandemic. Past research has shown that high-quality mentorship can alleviate negative emotions and enhance mental well-being by bolstering academic performance, addressing personal concerns, and providing valuable coping resources. This study posits that the interaction frequency and deep-level similarity between mentors and mentees can significantly impact the quality of support. Overall this study seeks to examine mentoring experiences and mental health among science and engineering undergraduates, focusing on the potential for mentoring to mitigate mental health issues during the early stages of the pandemic. By exploring demographic differences, mentor-mentee similarity, interaction frequency, and the impact of mentoring satisfaction on mental health, this research aims to shed light on the complex relationship between mentoring and the well-being of college students during these challenging times.

Key Findings:

  • The correlations seen in the study between mentoring variables and mental health indicate that higher levels of mentoring support were associated with better mental health outcomes.
  • Women reported slightly lower levels of mentoring satisfaction (MS) and moderately higher levels of mental health problems compared to men. Additionally Asian students had slightly lower perceived mentor-mentee similarity but slightly higher psychosocial mentoring support than their White peers. Students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds reported more significant benefits from mentoring in terms of mental health.
  • Higher levels of perceived instrumental (aiding in academic and professional development) and psychosocial (fostering personal and emotional growth) mentoring support were linked to higher levels of MS, which, in turn, were associated with lower mental health problems.
  • Disabled students reported significantly higher levels of mental health problems, and the association between greater MS and decreased mental health problems was weaker for students with disabilities compared to their non-disabled peers.

Implications for Mentoring 

The relationship seen between mentoring satisfaction and mental health underscore how mentorship can serve as a buffer against psychological distress and enhance mental health resilience. To enhance mentor-mentee relationships two strategies were highlighted. Firstly mentors should actively engage in academic discussions, monitor progress, and offer guidance, including referrals to campus resources. Secondly, regular check-ins, active listening, and promoting confidence and hope in feedback conversations can bolster the psychosocial dimension of mentoring. However socioeconomic disparities affecting access to mentoring supports also highlight the need to address inequality in access to mentoring support. Particularly as the study found that lower SES students reported greater benefits from mentoring. Additionally, the weakened association between mentoring and mental health for disabled students highlights how higher education institutions must ensure that as well as creating equal access they are also providing mentors with appropriate training and resources to provide culturally responsive support for their mentees. 

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