Roots of Success: Nurturing Belonging and Persistence in Latinx Undergraduates Through Mentorship

Reference: Delgado-Guerrero, M., & Gloria, A. M. (2023). Cultivating Latinx undergraduates’ belonging and persistence through relationally-based, culturally-centered, and interpersonally-specific mentorship. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 15210251231201578.

Summarized by: Ellen Parry Luff

About the Study:

When looking for ways to help Latinx undergraduates successfully navigate the system and increase achievement, recent research has highlighted the benefits of mentoring. In particular it was found that mentoring can aid Latinx students in navigating the higher education system and thus can improve persistence and academic achievement. However, research around the effects of matching Latinx mentees with Latinx mentors remains mixed. Additionally, there is a gap in the literature surrounding how different mentor types and specific elements within mentoring relationships impact retention, sense of belonging, and persistence among Latinx undergraduates. To address this, the current qualitative study focuses on the experiences of Latinx undergraduates, looking at how students navigate environmental barriers and negative campus climates. In particular the authors look at mentorship across mentor type ( i.e., staff, faculty, and peer) through a psychosocialcultural (PSC)* framework, operationalized via the Undergraduate Mentoring Model (UMM)**. 

*The PSC framework takes into account the interplay of psychological, social, and cultural factors and their effects within a given context. 

**The UMM includes four domains looked at in the study which are “psychological or emotional support”, “goal setting and career paths”, “academic subject knowledge support”, and “the existence of a role model”.

Key Findings:

  • Theme 1. Psychological or Emotional Support: Having someone who they could talk to about personal matters, who could provide cultural validation, and who could influence relationships with other support systems (e.g. friends and family) was important. Notably, many participants felt like their mentors (particularly peer or staff mentors) ”got them” and even went beyond offering psychological or emotional support. 
  • Theme 2. Goal Setting and Career Paths: Mentors helped mentees achieve success by motivating them, holding them accountable, fostering their professional development, & networking skills, as well as sharing cultural and personal perspectives, all of which help mentees explore possibilities for the future.
  • Theme 3. Academic Subject Knowledge Support: Staff mentors helped mentees improve their professional development skills and navigate the higher education system. Peer mentors helped mentees strategize their academics and succeed with coursework. Both peer and staff mentors helped mentees connect coursework to their culture and community. 
  • Theme 4. Existence of a Role Model: Mentors who shared their successes, failures, and personal experiences were impactful for mentees. Findings around specifically the impacts of racial or gender match were mixed as some students noted how having similar life experiences was most important.
  • Theme 5. Academic Persistence: Having a mentor who believed in them and pushed them to keep going was crucial. In particular, mentors who would consistently vocalize their belief in their mentee while also acknowledging and being aware of the challenging educational context the mentee faced were most effective. 
  • Overall: The findings highlight the importance of having multiple mentors throughout students’ educational careers, and how each mentor type (peer, staff, and faculty) provides unique support which can all be valuable at different times during a students undergraduate experience.

Implications for Mentoring:

While this study contributes many promising findings, the authors note that there is more work to be done. In particular, they push for more research, especially longitudinal research, to look more closely at the long-term impact on educational experiences of mentor-matching with social identity markers, with specific questions to examine racial identity. Additionally, there should be more work looking at students’ transitions across different mentor types, to see whether they are sequential or simultaneous, to learn more about the effects and mechanisms of having multiple mentors. Research looking at the effects of different physical locations and communication modalities would also be beneficial. Overall, the authors argue for a relationally-based, culturally-centered, interpersonally specific mentoring approach when working with Latinx undergraduates. To achieve this they suggest matching mentors based on similar social identities, academic discipline, and experiences as findings show this is highly beneficial to creating a strong mentoring relationship. Additionally, universities should provide training on Latinx cultural values to help mentors be better attuned to their Latinx mentees. There should also be a developmental approach taken by allowing for multiple mentors across time to account for students developing needs. 

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