Mentoring Undergraduate Students

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

Instructor-student interaction is often regarded as “the most important factor in student motivation and involvement” (Chickering & Gamson, 1987, p. 3). This interaction occurs inside and outside of the classroom, in face-to-face and virtual teaching situations, through various learning activities, formal advising meetings, and informal mentoring conversations. Instructor-student mentoring, in particular, is important because it can “assist students to make sense of their own educational futures and career plans, help them feel welcome as scholars in their disciplines, and provide them with access to important networks of information and people to aid them in their success” (DeAngelo et al., 2016, p. 318). But what is mentoring?

Nora and Crisp (2008) identified four major domains in the scholarly literature as comprising mentoring: 1) psychological or emotional support, 2) support for setting goals and choosing a career path, 3) academic subject knowledge support aimed at advancing a student’s knowledge relevant to their chosen field, and 4) specification of a role model. Based on survey data that included 200 undergraduate students, they reported over thirty desired characteristics of a mentor situated across the four dimensions of mentoring. Below, I have teased out a few characteristics of each dimension that I feel are useful for mentoring undergraduate students in any discipline (see “Appendix A” in Nora & Crisp (2008) for a complete list of items):

  1. Psychological and emotional support: My mentor…
    1. Helps me develop better coping strategies when my academic goals are not achieved
    2. Expresses their personal confidence in my ability to succeed in pursuit of my academic goals
  2. Goal setting and career paths: My mentor…
    1. Helps me explore realistic options and provides guidance on attainable academic objectives
    2. Explains degree and career options
  3. Academic subject knowledge support: My mentor…
    1. Asks probing questions so that I can explain my views regarding my academic progress
    2. Follows up on my decisions to develop better study habits by asking questions about my actual progress
  4. The role model: My mentor…
    1. Shares personal examples of difficulties they have had to overcome
    2. Uses their personal experience to explain how college courses can be valuable learning experiences for me

Consider the mentoring characteristics above in the context of your relationships with undergraduate students. How do you provide psychological and emotional support for students? How do you help students set goals and develop career paths? How do you support students who are struggling in your classes? To what extent do you share personal experiences about your education with students? Why or why not? How do you make yourself available to students?

Mentoring is a very organic and personal process that will look different for each instructor, student, and teaching situation. These are a few questions to get you thinking more intentionally about how you mentor undergraduate students. I find the four dimensions above especially useful for establishing relational boundaries with students; to be personal with purpose, always in support of student-centered course goals and learning outcomes (e.g., Anderson & Shore, 2008).

If you want to discuss any ideas presented in this blog or develop strategies for mentoring your undergraduate students, please contact the Reinert Center to schedule a consultation.



Anderson, D. D., & Shore, W. J. (2008). Ethical issues and concerns associated with mentoring undergraduate students. Ethics & Behavior, 18, 1-25.

Chickering, A., & Gamson, Z. (1987, March). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39, 3-7.

DeAngelo, L., Mason, J., & Winters, D. (2016). Faculty engagement in mentoring undergraduate students: How institutional environments regulate and promote extra-role behavior. Innovative Higher Education, 41, 317-332.

Nora, A., & Crisp, G. (2008). Mentoring students: Conceptualizing and validating the multi-dimensions of a support system. J. College Student Retention, 9, 337-356.

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