The impact of youth-initiated mentoring for underrepresented college-bound students

Schwartz, S. E. O., Kanchewa, S. S., Rhodes, J. E., Cutler, E., & Cunningham, J. L. (2016). “I didn’t know you could just ask:” Empowering underrepresented college-bound students to recruit academic and career mentors. Children and Youth Services Review, 64, 51–59.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Mentoring and social capital play essential roles for adolescents, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds. 
  • Evidence suggests that youth-initiated mentoring can be beneficial for adolescents and their sense of autonomy.
  • This study examines the effectiveness of a pilot youth initiated mentoring intervention geared for 12 high school seniors that are in a program serving low-income, racial and ethnic minorities, and incoming first-generation college students.
  • The intervention influenced high school seniors to value mentoring and social capital more, as well as taught them how to develop connections with potential mentors.
  • It’s essential for adolescents to have a solid foundation in order to pursue their academic goals, strengthen their college persistence, as well as increase their social capital. 

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

This study investigates a new approach to cultivating mentoring relationships in which adolescents participate in workshops to develop their capacity to recruit mentors and other supportive adults who can help advance their academic and career goals. Drawing on in-depth pre- and post- interviews, research observations, and participant feedback and workshop materials from a pilot intervention conducted with 12 ethnic minority students in their senior year of high school, this study explores whether and how the intervention influenced participants, as well as mechanisms of change. Results suggested that the intervention increased the value students placed on social capital and mentoring relationships, developed their knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy in how to develop such connections, and influenced their interactions with potential academic and career mentors. Although additional research is needed, this study highlights the potential of a relatively low-cost intervention to support underrepresented college-bound students in developing relationships that are crucial to college and career success.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The results of this study point to the capacity of a relatively low-cost and low-burden intervention to influence young people’s relationships with potential academic and career mentors. Specifically, results indicated that the intervention was able to increase the value students place on social capital and mentoring relationships, develop their knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy in how to develop such relationships, and to change the way in which students interact with adults in educational and professional settings. By providing students typically underrepresented in college settings with explicit training in the importance of mentoring relationships and social capital as well as strategies to cultivate such relationships, this intervention potentially represents a means to increase underrepresented students’ capacity to recruit academic and career mentors throughout college and in the workforce.

Data also suggested the importance of explicitly discussing with underrepresented students the importance of developing social capital and mentoring relationships to academic and career success and giving them “permission” to reach out to such adults, as well as providing opportunities to directly practice interacting with adults in academic and professional contexts. Similarly, normalizing help-seeking behavior and framing the cultivation of social capital as a necessary component of professional development and college success, rather than an indication of over-dependency or lack of self-reliance, allowed adolescents whose cultural values emphasized self-reliance to engage in specific forms of help-seeking behaviors. In particular, distinguishing between different types of social support, specifically between informational and instrumental support versus emotional support, was important for students who felt it would be disrespectful or disloyal to seek emotional support from adults outside of their family. Specifically, for some students, the term “mentor” indicated someone who primarily provided emotional support and with whom they would be expected to discuss personal and familial challenges, making them uncomfortable with the idea of mentoring relationships. By the end of the workshop, however, all of the students were willing and motivated to pursue mentoring relationships and social capital at least for the purpose of cultivating sources of informational and instrumental support.

The findings of this study underscore the importance of culturally informed interventions. Participants’ strong value on relying on themselves or family members may in part reflect contextual experiences and socialization processes among Haitian immigrant families, which place emphasis on self and familial reliance (Brooks, 2013, Colin, 2001, Menos, 2005, Schantz et al., 2003), particularly in light of systemic discrimination and stigma (Doucet & Suárez-Orozco, 2006). By acknowledging these beliefs and exploring how the values of self-reliance and loyalty to family can co-exist with the cultivation of academic and career connections, the intervention allowed students to retain their values while modifying their approach to interacting with non-parental adults.

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