Research applies sociological concepts to mentoring programs

Stanton-Salazar, R. (2016). Contributions of social capital theory and social network models in advancing the connection between students’ school-based learning and community-based opportunities for pursuing interest-driven learning. Paper presented at Power Brokers: Building Youth Social Capital through Connected Learning. University of California, Irvine.


Summarized by Justin Preston

In a paper presented in the Fall of 2016 at the University of California, Irvine, Ricardo Stanton-Salazar, Ph.D., discussed the potential for applying the sociological concept of social capital theory to mentoring programs. In his presentation, Stanton-Salazar defines social capital as “resources and forms of support that we can access through our genuine relationships with people who care about us.”

Stanton-Salazar goes on to provide an example of social capital in action:

“Your friend Maria has been there for you over many years; in turn, you’ve been there for her. You have confidence she’ll lend you the money; therefore, the $500 dollars she has in her checking account is in some sense, yours—that is, it is part of your “social capital,” (i.e., financial support that is part of your relationship).”

He also discusses another concept – that of “institutional agent”. Taking Maria from the hypothetical example above, he describes an institutional agent as:

“Maria is the director of a community health center, and is a close friend and colleague of a school board member in your district. In this sense, Maria functions as an “institutional agent” situated in your network; that is, she occupies a position that carries status and which affords her opportunities to regularly engage people of power and influence. The day comes when you and other parents protest the coerced relocation of a highly-respected teacher at your child’s school. You turn to Maria and ask her to set up a closed-door meeting with this board member; the meeting happens the next day. The teacher remains at your school.”

With regards to mentor-youth relationships, the concepts of social capital and institutional agent have the opportunity to generate positive benefits beyond the bounds of the mentor/mentee relationship. The two terms are linked in that increasing one can, in turn, help to develop the presence of the other, and vice versa.

Connecting with Connected Scholars

The concepts presented by Stanton-Salazar are powerful and can help expand the benefits afforded to mentees through mentoring relationships beyond the mentoring partnership itself. By teaching mentees about the importance of developing meaningful relationships (and modeling such a relationship in the mentor/mentee pairing), youth and teens can better navigate different societal systems, be they high school, college, or work. In other words, social capital is a concept that can be used as another tool in helping to overcome challenges and disadvantages by drawing on their surrounding relationships and support.

Fortunately, these concepts have been integrated into a curriculum being utilized as you read this: Connected Scholars. We’ve featured the Connected Scholars curriculum on the Chronicle previously. You can find discussions here and here for further reading, as well as access to the curriculum itself here.

The ideas discussed by Stanton-Salazar and implemented as part of Connected Scholars can help flip the dynamic of a mentoring relationship by turning mentees into their own advocates, seeking the support they need to address the challenges they are facing. It also helps mentors and mentoring programs see themselves as part of a larger care network that need not be tasked with shouldering all of the burden when it comes to providing support for youth and teens in need.


To read Stanton-Salazar’s paper, click here.