New findings from the Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring

By Jean Rhodes

For the past decade, my students, colleagues, and I have hosted a workshop at the National Mentoring Summit to report the latest research findings from the Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring. Since we’re doing something different this year (more below), we thought it might be helpful to share some of the highlights of our 2022 work.

Youth mentoring holds tremendous promise for bridging gaps in services and supporting students, but the continued dominance of vague relationship goals and a nonspecific “friendship model” is impeding progress. At the Center we are building the tools and research base to advance the field toward more goal-focused relationships. Data from our work supports the promise of: a) blended mentoring, i.e., using mentoring platforms to focus the relationships on specific goals and challenges, and/or deploying mentors to support technology-delivered mental health and educational interventions, b) embedded Mentoring, i.e., deploying mentors to reinforce goal-directed activities within the systems in which youth are already engaging  (e.g., schools, after school programs, youth diversion programs) to support skills development. In this column, I’ll focus on the recent work in blended mentoring.

After conducting extensive research for my newest book, Older and Wiser, I became convinced that, done right, mentoring and technology are well-suited to each other. As I argued:

When technology- delivered interventions are blended with coaching and support in what is called blended mentoring, they can produce outcomes that rival those of face-to-face interventions, often at little or no cost and in ways that are more geographically, financially, and socially acceptable to youth and their caregivers…In a nutshell, we have targeted, evidence-based technologies that work best for youth when they are supported by lay coaches; and we have mentoring programs that are in need of targeted, evidence-based interventions. This may just be a match made in heaven.

To explore this promise, our team has worked with top mobile app developers to create a peer mentoring platform for college students, MentorPRO, a customized version of MentorHub, which we have now piloted with over 10,000 college students. MentorPRO tracks students’ current challenges and connects them with peer mentors who are trained to provide students with support and referrals. The platform prompts users to set goals and to rate the severity of weekly challenges they may be facing. We have also worked with youth mentoring programs, most notably Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee, to create a non-profit K-12 version of this platform, MentorHub. Our research on MentorPRO has been led by the Center’s talented Associate Director, Dr. Alexandra Werntz

Technology-enabled peer mentoring interventions can helps college students

Werntz, A, Jasman, M., Simeon, K., Gunasekaran, H., and Rhodes, J. (in press). Implementation of a Technology-Enhanced Peer Mentor Referral System for First-Year University Students. Journal of Technology in Behavioral Science

Since 2021, our team has been conducting a large-scale exploratory evaluation of a customized version of MentorHub with college students in the northeast.  Among all students, there was a significant association between engagement in MentorPRO and grade point average (GPA) r(2945)=.04, p=.043 as well as indicators of belonging and wellbeing. More recently, we found a range of promising effects in college students (forthcoming in 2023).  Linear regression models  demonstrated that engagement with MentorPRO was associated with significantly fewer mid-semester course withdrawals or alerts, and significantly greater sense of belonging, efficacy, and life satisfaction. Propensity score matching analyses were also conducted, which estimates the effect of the using of MentorPRO after accounting for covariates. After matching first generation students to continuing-generation students on low high school GPA and minority status, high MentorPRO engagement was significantly (p<.05) related to higher student ratings of belonging, efficacy, and life satisfaction than those with low engagement.

If you’ll be attending the Summit, please come to our Summit presentation on Thurs. 1/26 at 9:25  and/or visit our Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring booth or to learn more.

Mentors (and others) can help support technology-enabled mental health interventions

Werntz, A., Amado, S., Jasman, M., Ervin, A., & Rhodes, J. (in press). Providing human support for use of digital mental health interventions: A systematic meta-review. Journal of Medical Internet Research. This paper has been accepted and is currently in production.

Our team also completed a systematic meta-review of meta-analyses that have focused on the effects of human support in digital mental health interventions.  Thirty-one meta-analyses representing 505 unique primary studies were reviewed. Almost half (48.89%) of the studies showed that human-supported interventions were significantly more effective than unsupported interventions while only four (8.89%) effect sizes showed that unsupported were significantly more effective. The results highlight the potential of mentors in improving the effects of digital mental health interventions as a way of increasing access to evidence-based mental health tools. This builds on our work Sam McQuillin (U South Carolina) in which we developed a detailed framework for shifting mental health service tasks to paraprofessional mentors. Appropriately scaled, paraprofessionals can reduce the burden of students’ mental health difficulties. With additional training, a subset of mentors could increase engagement in and even deliver mental health services. Paraprofessional mentors can 1) lower barriers to seeking mental health services, 2) promote engagement with mental health services, including digital mental health interventions, 3) provide direct interventions. The transition from traditional to paraprofessional models will also require mentoring programs to expand their practices.

Other (mentor related) studies we’ve completed this past year 

Christensen, K., Poon, C., Kremer, K., & Rhodes, J. (In press). A meta-analysis of the effects of after-school programs among youth with marginalized identities. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology. (Chronicle summary forthcoming)

Poon, C. Y. S., Herrera, C., Jarjoura, R., Keller, T., McQuillin, S. D., Keller, T., & Rhodes, J. E. (2022). Deconstructing “risk” in youth mentoring programs: How environmental stressors and patterns of presenting challenges shape youth outcomes. Journal of Early Adolescence, 0(0), 1–29. See Chronicle summary 

Rubin, R. O., Johnson, S. K., Christensen, K. M., & Rhodes, J. E. (2022). Development and initial validation of a camper-counselor relationship scale. Applied Developmental Science. See related study in Chronicle

Kremer, K. P., Christensen, K. M., Stump, K. N., Stelter R. L., Kupersmidt, J. B., & Rhodes, J. E. (2022). The role of visits and parent–child relationship quality in promoting positive outcomes for children of incarcerated parents. Child & Family Social Work, 27(2), 206-216. See related study in Chronicle