Mentoring Latinx youth seeking technology careers

Denner, J., & Torres, D. (2023). How natural mentoring is used by Latinx youth at a community technology center. Journal of Latinos and Education, 22(1), 339-356.

Summarized by Ellen Parry Luff

Notes of Interest

  • Despite the rapid growth of the technological workforce in America, Latinx are underrepresented in the field of technology. 
  • Evidence shows that mentoring helps youth with career, academic, and personal growth.
  • Mentoring relationships is a promising approach to addressing this issue since it can increase Latinxs’ social capital through supportive relationships, knowledge, and resources. 
  • This study looks at the role of natural mentoring in Latinx students’ pathways to work in technology fields. 
    • More specifically, it assesses mentors’ and mentees’ perceptions of natural mentoring within a community-based technology center that works with Latinx youths.
  • Results identified ten elements that encompassed the experiences of mentors and mentees and how well both of their perspectives aligned.
  • Element 1: The Mentors Objective
    • Mentors focused on achieving specific academic and career-related goals while emphasizing flexibility and providing social support. 
    • Mentees focused less on how mentors specifically connected them to institutional resources. However, they talked about how they perceived their mentors more as people who offered advice and agreed that natural mentorship comprises social support and academic/career support.
  • Element 2: The Mentor’s role
    • Shared backgrounds were very important. Mentors saw themselves as people who help mentees reach their potential in life. The mentees saw them as those who pushed them in supportive ways to help them grow. 
  • Element 3: Tie Strength
    • Both mentors and mentees focused on the importance of the relationship with mentors focusing more on strategies used. 
  • Element 4: Relative Seniority
    • Mentors saw themselves more as peers to their mentees while their mentees saw them as seniors.
    • There was a notable focus, especially from the mentors, on the importance of having a shared background in a mentoring relationship.
  • Element 5: Time
    • While there was limited information about the frequency and length of mentorships, mentors noted that they arranged meetings based on availability and individual needs. 
    • They also highlighted the importance of having at least weekly check-ins. 
  • Element 6: Selection
    • Selection was often driven by the mentees based on their needs as well as their potential mentor’s skill sets and knowledge.
  • Element 7: Activities 
    • Mentors developed structured activities that corresponded to the areas their mentees needed help with and used them as a way for their mentees to practice these skills.  
    • Many mentees perceived these activities as a way to hang out with their mentors.
  • Elements 8, 9, and 10: Policy, Monitoring, and Termination
    • Mentors focused on their life experiences as what led them to be mentors, with some expressing a desire for formal training. 
  • Mentors’ roles can vary, with some being more active than others. 
  • Close natural mentoring, especially ones where mentors and mentees have shared backgrounds, can provide Latinx youth with the cultural capital and resources to navigate environments outside of their respective communities while having a strong sense of their identities.

Introduction (Reprinted from Abstract)

Mentoring is widely cited as a strategy to increase the representation of Latinx in technology, but the role of informal relationships with adults outside their family remains unclear. This study explores how natural mentoring is utilized by Latinx youth at a community-based organization, including the perspectives of both mentors and mentees, what it looks like, and the implications for students’ education and career pathways in the technology sector. The findings describe the motivations, strategies and ideologies of the adults in informal learning settings, as well as similarities and differences in the perspectives of the mentors and mentees.

Implications (Reprinted from Discussion)

Programs designed to address the underrepresentation of Latinx in the information technology workforce typically target individual factors like interest and skills (Denner et al., 2017). For more impactful ways to help youth prepare for the workforce, it is important to understand the role of informal relationships with adults outside their family, including how they develop and what strategies are viewed as effective by both the mentors and mentees. Prior studies show that these adults play a powerful role in brokering opportunities for low income youth (Stanton-Salazar, 2011). This study fills a gap in our understanding of the motivations, strategies, and ideologies of the adults in informal learning settings. It also fills a gap in our understanding of what natural mentoring looks like in a community-based technology center from the perspective of the mentor and the mentee. This is particularly important for Latinx youth who have fewer role models in tech fields (Google/ Gallup, n.d.; Modi et al., 2012). The results contribute to an understanding of how mentors view their role as institutional agents, as well as similarities and differences in the perspectives of the mentors and mentees.

Similar to studies in other contexts, natural mentors provide the cultural capital and the knowledge that students from racial/ethnic minority groups need in order to navigate institutions outside their community (Hagler, 2018). The findings suggest that staff are providing a depth and a range of personalized support to youth members. The mentors’ objectives vary depending on mentee’s needs, and there is also variation across mentors. Like other studies of adults in community centers (Hirsch, 2005), most mentors focus on personal support and helping mentees be comfortable with themselves and figure out who they want to become. Strategies of encouragement and role modeling (rather than career guidance or tangible help) play a key role in helping lower- middle-class high school youth get into college (Reynolds & Parrish, 2018). These objectives are similar to what is found in more formal mentoring programs (DuBois et al., 2002), with the difference being that they are driven by the mentee rather than the mentor. Given the mentee- driven nature of the relationship, it is not surprising that the mentees held similar views about the goals or objectives of working with a mentor. However, it was more common for the mentees to describe their mentor as an academic or career coach than it was for the mentors to refer to themselves that way.

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