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.

Common Rhetorical Patterns of Writing

by Gina Merys, Associate Director, Reinert Center

This past week, the Reinert Center facilitated the 2017 Culturally Responsive Teaching Institute. As part of that institute, participants began to grapple with what it means to live and learn through another culture and language.

Because even the ways we think are structured through the filter of culture, our language patterns, both written and spoken, often reflect those very different patterns. A simple way to illustrate this idea is to think about a common idiom in your own native language and then try to translate it directly into another language. Not only do the words of the idiom frequently cease to make sense in a direct translation, but also the structure of the idiom often becomes disorganized as well.

As a way to show how this challenge in translating our thoughts reveals itself in students’ written work, we have updated a germinal image of cultural thought patterns. This updated image is part of a larger project examining the ways in which students’ writing reflects rhetorical thought patterns, especially in specific educational settings.


To explore challenges in grading students’ written work, contact the Reinert Center to request a consultation.

Wait, What? Questions to Facilitate Dialogue, Discussion and Reflection

ryan bookby Chris Grabau, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

In 2016, James Ryan, Dean of Harvard University’s School of Education, gave a commencement speech on how asking (and answering) good question can help evoke empathy, understanding, and curiosity.  During his speech, Ryan presented “5 essential questions” that are to serve as a guide for inquiry throughout a person’s life.  They are: “Wait, what…?; I wonder….?; Couldn’t we at least…?; How can I help?; and What truly matters?”  What Ryan is proposing is that “the five questions are like five crucial keys on a key ring.  While you’ll certainly need other keys from time to time, you’ll never want to be without these five (questions)” (Ryan, 2017).

Ryan’s questions clearly resonated with people.  In the months following the graduation ceremony, a recording of Ryan’s commencement speech has received over 122 thousand YouTube views – becoming one of Harvard University’s most watched videos.  His address has also been made into a book titled, “Wait, What” And Life’s Other Essential Questions (2017).  Much like his speech, the book incorporates examples from politics, history, popular culture, and social movements, as well as his own personal life to explore how asking these essential questions offers a thought-provoking (and accessible) reflection that will challenge any person’s outlook on life.

Ryan’s “essential questions” also provide a nice reminder of how asking good questions can serve as a foundation to help facilitate classroom discussion, dialogue, and conversation.  Just as Ryan states, “the right question asked at the right time, will open a door to something you don’t yet know, something you haven’t yet realize or something you haven’t even considered – about others and about yourself” (Ryan, 2017).

Much of what Ryan’s essential questions propose mirror many of the benefits of classroom discussion.   In Discussion as a way of teaching: Tools and techniques for democratic classrooms (2012) Brookfield and Preskill, state “one of the defining characteristics of critical discussion is that participants are willing to enter the conversation with open minds. This requires people to be flexible enough to adjust their views in the light of persuasive, well-supported arguments and confident enough to retain their original opinions when rebuttals fall short”(pg. 7).  Brookfield and Preskill state the following benefits of facilitating classroom discussions through thoughtful questioning:

  1. Helps students explore a diversity of perspectives.
  2. Increases students’ awareness of and tolerance for ambiguity or complexity.
  3. Helps students recognize and investigate their assumptions.
  4. Encourages attentive, respectful listening.
  5. Develops new appreciation for continuing differences.
  6. Increases intellectual agility.
  7. Helps students become connected to a topic.
  8. Shows respect for students’ voices and experiences.
  9. Helps students learn the processes and habits of democratic discourse.
  10. Affirms students as co-creators of knowledge.
  11. Develops the capacity for the clear communication of ideas and meaning.
  12. Develops habits of collaborative learning.
  13. Increases breadth and makes students more empathic.
  14. Helps students develop skills of synthesis and integration.
  15. Leads to transformation.

As you begin to work on preparing to teach next semester, take a moment to reflect on the questions you might raise in classroom discussion.  Consider using questions as not just a means to check for understanding, but an opportunity to facilitate dialogue, empathy, perspective, and clarity.  As King (1995) notes, “We can further promote student use of critical questions by modeling the use of such questions ourselves.”

To better facilitate questions into teaching, The Reinert Center has a Resource Guide on Student Generated Questions, Quotations, and Talking Points.  Also, check out James Fortney’s 2016 Notebook entry on a few evidence-based strategies for facilitating diversity discussions.

If you would like to discussion dialogue and how open ended questions can bolster your teaching, consider meeting with any one of the Reinert Center staff.  We are always happy to meet.



Brookfield, S. D., & Preskill, S. (2012). Discussion as a way of teaching: Tools and techniques for democratic classrooms. John Wiley & Sons.

King, A. (1995). Inquiring minds really do want to know: using questioning to teach critical thinking. Teaching Of Psychology2213-17.

Ryan, J. (2017). Wait, What? And Life’s Other Essential Questions. Harper Collins: New York.

Woods, K. w., & Bliss, K. (2016). Facilitating Successful Online Discussions. Journal Of Effective Teaching16(2), 76-92.

Designing Independent Study Courses

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

A few years ago, I designed and facilitated an independent study course for an undergraduate student in my department. She needed a more focused, self-directed study of qualitative research methods before beginning her senior thesis project the following semester. I was impressed by her ability to articulate goals for the course and why I would be the best person to teach it. She clearly understood why she needed the independent study experience with me. But she had not given much thought to the anatomy of the course itself (e.g., format, structure, timeline, content). Before agreeing to direct the course, I asked her to put together a formal proposal that addressed six important elements for self-directed learning (see Planning for Independent Study):

  1. Description: What do you plan to do and how do you plan to do it? What are your objectives in undertaking this study? What do you hope to learn?
  2. Qualifications: What background, knowledge, or preparation do you have that will help you in undertaking this course? What books have you read? What courses have you taken? What relevant experiences have you had?
  3. Resources: What sources and resources do you intend to use? Can you provide a list of articles and books you want to read?
  4. Demonstration of Learning: How will you keep track of and demonstrate your learning? When, where, and how will you report your progress?
  5. Evaluation Criteria: How will you evaluate your work? What will be the focus of your evaluation?
  6. Expectations of Instructor: Describe your expectations of the instructor directing this independent study.

The student emailed me her proposal and we scheduled another meeting to discuss the six elements listed above in greater depth. The most challenging part for me was the shifting of power from instructor to student. I spent most of the meeting asking clarifying questions, listening, jotting down notes, and imagining ways to craft a syllabus with this student. For the most part, I stayed out of the weeds and provided space for her to identify what she needed from the course and from me. I would periodically suggest a reading (e.g., “I think this important reading is missing…”) or help frame her ideas in the context of a specific theory or relevant concept, but most of the course design work was done by the student. At the conclusion of our meeting, I was confident she was ready for independent study with me. I agreed to direct the course and, using her proposal and the notes from our meeting, we drafted a course syllabus for her independent study. It ended up being a really positive and productive experience for us both.

If you currently teach independent study courses or are interested in learning more about ways to design and facilitate them, I encourage you to explore some of the resources below. I find the document from Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies at Western Washington University to be particularly useful because of its student-centered approach to course design. If you are looking for a list of more research-oriented resources, look at the document from the University of Waterloo’s Center for Teaching Excellence. And as always, please feel free to schedule a teaching consultation with someone in the Reinert Center to discuss independent study courses.


  1. Guidelines for Independent Study (DigiPen Institute of Technology)
  2. Planning for Independent Study (Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies, Western Washington University)
  3. Recommended Independent Study Structure (School of Public Health, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston)
  4. Self-Directed Learning: A Four-Step Process (Center for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo)
  5. Supervising Independent Student Project (Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation, Carnegie Mellon University)

Using This Summer to Transform Your Teaching and Learning

Reinert Center RIT_circle_2014_solid_082214by Yang (Emily) Li, Graduate Assistant, Reinert Center

Transformational learning is a reflection process to rethink life changes and events and gain new meaning out of our classroom, community and society (Alexander, 2007). For teachers who are designing courses for higher educational institutions, one transformational learning strategy is including multicultural reading material in classroom discussion.

In order to determine if multicultural discussions are right for one’s class, teachers could reflect on the following two questions:

  • How could discussing multicultural reading material help to achieve my teaching goals and objectives?
  • How could discussing multicultural reading material assist in assessing students’ learning?

As for teachers who may want to know more about the benefits of including multicultural reading material in their classes, the following are some examples.

Four benefits of multicultural approach:

Discussing diversity in the classroom is positive for science courses

Teachers may think that diversity discussions are only applicable in arts and humanities subjects; however, diversity discussions are also very important for science subject instruction. Students are invited to share their different backgrounds and discuss openly in class, which creates an equal and respectful environment to build a higher student self-efficacy.

Infusing different cultural teaching and learning styles evolves teaching

As for higher educational institutions, research is of great importance. Teachers can shape their teaching to activate students’ motivation in their particular research area through the use of this multicultural teaching strategy. Learning different teaching and learning styles from students’ cultural background enables teachers to become more flexible to students’ learning and research needs.

Using students’ reading reflection assists in assigning discussion groups

In large classes, teachers can assign students into different discussion groups based on their reflection assignment. For instance, teachers can assign students with similar reflection ideas into different groups to share their unique ideas. The teacher also can assign students with similar ideas to the same discussion group to deepen their discussion into realistic problem-solving situations.

Multicultural reading material pairs well with textbook material

Teachers can pick some reading materials with opposite opinions compared with the textbook. Students can then compare the similarities and differences between textbook and the additional reading material. This discussion will develop students’ critical thinking skills to distinguish information from different sources.



Kaplan, M., & Miller, A. T. (Eds.). (2007). Scholarship of multicultural teaching and learning.

San Francisco, CA: Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

In Case You Missed It…

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214Just in case you were too busy during the spring semester and missed some of our resources or blog postings, here are three things we would like to draw to your attention.

-Technology for Teaching, an e-journal by the Reinert Center’s instructional developer staff made it’s debut. You can read the first issue at

-As part of our year long theme on Inclusive Teaching the Reinert Center staff created more than 40 resources ranging from creating transparent assignments to facilitating difficult dialogues in the classroom. You can find the list here:

-If your summer plans include catching up on reading about teaching, don’t forget the Reinert Center has a group subscription to The Teaching Professor, a newsletter published 10 times yearly. This is a great resource for research, essays about classroom practice, and ideas you might implement in the classroom:

A Year on Inclusive Teaching: Closing Reflections

inclusive teaching banner_FINALby Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

As the academic year comes to a close, the Reinert Center team is wrapping up a year-long focus on inclusive teaching.  Since August, we’ve hosted more than 10 events explicitly focused on different aspects of inclusive teaching, curated or created more than 40 web-based resources to promote inclusive teaching, and secured a Campus Dialogue Grant from Bringing Theory to Practice [LINK] to develop a set of recommendations to advance inclusive teaching at SLU in the future.

Along the way, we’ve met with individuals and groups, read research on stereotype threat and the ways in which it can show up in the college classroom, and highlighted concrete practices instructors can enact to recognize and reduce barriers and minimize the potential for (accidental or intentional) exclusion.

Now that the year is coming to a close, we’ll let you in on a little secret: no matter what the Reinert Center’s theme is in any given year, we’re always focused on helping faculty and graduate students create inclusive classrooms. The fact is, evidence-based practices that create inclusion also result in learning. And the practices that lead to learning typically are inclusive. Whether or not we explicitly frame our work through the lens of inclusion, inclusive teaching is a goal. This year, we simply chose to make that commitment visible (and that, too, is an “inclusive practice”!).

As you head into the summer, we encourage you take a few minutes to reflect on the following questions.  The answers you arrive at may help you more intentionally design and teach inclusive courses.

What kinds of students may have felt excluded in your classes this year?

What might you do next year to minimize the possibility of exclusion for these students?

What one change will you make in your next course to create a more inclusive learning environment?

If you need ideas for concrete strategies, consult our inclusive teaching web resources [LINK] or come and see someone in the Reinert Center. We’re around all summer and ready to help.

Seats Still Available for May OTLI

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214Faculty interested in teaching online are invited to register for the Reinert Center’s Online Teaching and Learning Institute, which will be held on campus Tuesday, May 23 through Thursday, May 25, 2017.
This three-day intensive experience is aimed at SLU faculty with little-to-no experience teaching in the online format. Each day runs from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and participants must attend all three days.

For additional details and registration, visit our event page at

Congratulations Spring 2017 Certificate Recipients!

The Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning honored 27 Certificate in University Teaching Skills recipients and 13 Foundations Certificate in University Teaching Skills recipients at our spring ceremony on Friday, May 5, 2017 in the Pius Library Level 2 Gallery

Adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Dr. Chad Huddleston, began the ceremony by sharing a reflection on teaching with the recipients, friends, and family in attendance. You can listen to the recording of his reflection here:

This semester’s Certificate in University Teaching Skills recipients are Rabyah Alanazi, Brittney Bauer, Leamon Bazil, Robert Bodor, Amber Eischen, Alicia Flach, Jatinderpal Gosal, Erica Holbrook, Michelle Jaques, Clark Johnson, Ilwoo Ju, Nicole Koopman, Kayla Kostelecky, Kathryn Krupsky, Allison KunerthYang Li, Hayford Nsiah, Priya Parikh, LaTrina Parker, Benjamin Peet, Eleanor Peters Bergquist, Scott Salomone, Avni Shah, Anokhi Shah, Neil Shaw, Lorinette Wirth, and Tyler Zahrli.  The recipients of the Foundations Certificate are Saleh Alanazi, Isabella Cova, Jason Chen, Joseph Eisner, Savitri Grover, Scott A. Hessel, Krista Hyde, Anne M. Ilvarsonn, Mitchell Lorenz, Cassy S. McCandless, Taehwan Park, Ashaki D. Patel, and Tesa Rigel Hines.

CUT ceremony 2017_FINAL

The requirements for the Certificate in University Teaching Skills are themselves learning experiences that help participants to make deliberate and intentional choices about teaching. Friday’s ceremony acknowledged the time and commitment these participants gave to earning one of the Certificates. We also celebrated the dedication to teaching and learning shown by those faculty members who served as teaching mentors to the certificate recipients.

For more information about our certificates visit

First Issue of New eJournal Now Available

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214The Reinert Center invites you to read the first issue of our new ejournal Technology for TeachingTechnology for Teaching is a semi-annual publication from the Instructional Developer team in Saint Louis University’s Reinert Center. Each issue will explore innovative ways technology might be used in teaching. It is available online at