Rethinking Graduate Student Mentoring at a Hispanic Serving Institution: A Digital Approach to Faculty-Student Communication

Concurrent Session 1

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This presentation focuses on the e-mentoring of graduate students at a Hispanic-serving, masters-intensive institution. The presenters address: (a) benefits of e-mentoring, (b) models used, (c) challenges, and (d) best practices around the issues of e-environments and e-mentoring. The presentation also addresses the importance of cultural competency in faculty-student e-mentoring relationships.

Presenters

Juan Carlos González is an associate professor of educational leadership at California State University, Fresno. His research and teaching interests include educational policy and history, Latina/o and Chicana/o educational issues, higher education students and faculty, qualitative research methods, and online teaching methods.

Extended Abstract

The Council of Graduate Schools has identified mentoring as one of the most effective practices to help graduate students succeed, both in terms of academic degree completion and preparation for their professional life (Council, 2010). Even at the individual course level, mentoring has been proven to make a distinct difference, with attrition rates being significantly lower in courses completed by students in a mentorship relationship (Khan & Gogos, 2013). Yet, as more graduate students turn to online classes and programs which better fit their other life demands, fewer students are likely to seek out these relationships, often due to the added time commitment required to meet mentors face-to-face (Etzioni, 1999). Ongoing research at California State University, Fresno (“Fresno State”) substantiates this claim, and has led to an initiative to promote e-mentoring as a possible solution at our campus (Lopez, 2015).

Fresno State’s number one priority is to implement bold, high-impact practices that contribute to the retention, extraordinary learning, and lifelong success of diverse students in our extensive service area. Predominantly a commuter campus, Fresno State serves approximately 24,000 students, including close to 2,700 postbaccalaureate students, over 25% of whom commute from as far away as an hour and a half to study at the only public, graduate degree granting institution in a 17,000-plus square mile area (Fresno State, 2015).

As part of the strategy to meet this priority, the university applied for and received a US Department of Education Title V Part B grant, the purpose of which is to expand postbaccalaureate educational opportunities for, and increase the academic attainment of, Hispanic students. Focused on improving graduate student resources and success services, and turning to online education and services as a complement to traditional face-to-face interactions, our grant-funded activities have included the research, trial, and adoption of technologies most effective in distance mentoring. Such technologies and the faculty-student relationships they facilitate have proven crucial in fostering student-centered practices and, consequently, greater graduate student success.

For the purposes of this presentation, e-mentoring will be defined as “a computer mediated, mutually beneficial relationship between a mentor and a protégé which provides learning, advising, encouraging, promoting, and modeling, that is often boundaryless, egalitarian, and qualitatively different than traditional face-to-face mentoring” (Bierema & Merriam, 2002, p. 214).

Researchers who study e-mentoring state that it is a type of mentoring that uses electronic communications when traditional face-to-face mentoring is impractical (Muller, 1997). E-mentoring can also provide benefits that are associated with traditional mentoring, such as psychosocial support (Single, 2004). But the best type of mentoring are interactions what use both face-to-face and technology-based interactions (Hamilton & Scandura, 2003).

This session will address several areas of e-mentoring. First, an overview of benefits will be presented. Second, models used to advance e-mentoring at colleges and universities will be addressed. Third, challenges with this innovative and modern way of mentoring will be explicated. Lastly, some best practiced experienced by the presenters in both their own use and teaching of e-mentoring and e-environments will follow.

Benefits of E-Mentoring

The presenters will first discuss the benefits of e-mentoring, both as discussed in the scholarship and based on particular faculty experiences at Fresno State. Three primary benefits for a service region of 17,000 square miles are: (a) scheduling flexibility and lessened travel time, (b) the offering of a “safe” learning environment where students may discuss subjects online that they are not always comfortable talking about face-to-face, and (c) the ability for mentors to more effectively role model disciplinary functions and strategies (for example, through screen sharing). It is these benefits, among others, that play a central role in advancing e-mentoring at Fresno State given a student population with high numbers of commuters, full-time workers, historically underrepresented populations, and heavily Latina/o.

Models for E-Mentoring

Second, the presenters will address the various e-mentoring models Fresno State faculty have considered. Particular attention will be given to the Single and Single (2005) model, in which (a) planning, (b) program structure, and (c) assessment support each other to best effect. This particular model is optimal for a university like Fresno State, which proactively advocates and supports the transformation from face-to-face to e-mentoring. In the planning stage, faculty use e-mentoring to help in the recruitment of students, as well as in the matching of students with faculty and curriculum. E-mentoring is then used within academic programs to train, coach, and group mentors with mentees. Finally, e-mentoring is used to involve various constituencies who will conduct formative and summative evaluations of the mentorship experiences.

As part of this second area of e-mentoring, the presenters will share their experiences in training graduate faculty members who teach online courses or plan to do so in the near future. E-mentoring plays a special role in this training because, when asked about their concerns regarding the transition from face-to-face to online courses, many instructors cite their experienced disconnection from students and perceived limited ability to mentor students.

E-Mentoring Challenges

Third, the presenters discuss both the perceived and real challenges of implementing effective e-mentorship, as well as possible solutions to these problems. It is not simply a pedagogical transformation that is required. Ultimately, technology and e-mentoring must provide a better method to perform the same practices. 

Some of these challenges include: (a) insufficiency of personal contact, (b) limitations in the ability for a mentor to assess the psychosocial needs of mentees, (c) issues related to cross-race/gender mentoring, (d) technological competencies of mentors and mentees, and (e) technological infrastructure of mentors and mentees.

E-mentoring does in fact reduce personal contact significantly, particularly face-to-face interaction (Chung, 2003). In terms of technological competencies, e-mentoring will always work best when student and faculty know basic e-communication tools and how to trouble-shoot these tools when problems present themselves (Hamilton & Scandura, 2003). In terms of psychosocial needs, observing body language, the way they take notes, how they greet you, how they smile all have to do with making these assessments. And this is more difficult to do through e-mentoring because personal contact is limited. Lastly, cross-gender/race mentoring relations (see Hamilton & Scandura, 2003). Sometimes women and students of color are more confident when they do not have to meet with faculty of a different gender or race.

Some Best Practices Around E-Mentoring

Lastly, the presenters will share some best practices in e-mentoring, in the areas of relationships and technology.

Relationship-based

  • E-mentoring should be used to supplement and compliment traditional mentoring, not replace it. E-mentoring can be initiated with some face-to-face meetings to establish a relationship that can then flourish in an e-environment.
  • E-mentoring allows for both building long-term mentoring relationships, but also short-term mentoring moments where students learn key tips and lessons to be used to advance their research and academic goals. It is important that faculty who e-mentor students know that mentoring moments are important as parts of a whole mentoring interaction that is important to students.

Technology-based

  • Technology allows for the opportunity for faculty to video record conversations and uploading them to google docs for students to reference at a later time. This can significantly cut meeting time because faculty are able to progress through teaching faster knowing the session is being recorded for later viewing.
  • Faculty must test all technological tools to be used in e-mentoring session prior to contacting the students. It is common for technological problems to arise, and the better faculty are prepare to foresee problems, the better they can be at solving them.
  • If the nature of the technology problems is complex, faculty and students need to know who to contact for assistance. Faculty must have the phone numbers and e-mail addresses of technological support in case problem arise that need expert support beyond the knowledge of the faculty.
  • Students and faculty must also be able to work around challenges with technological infrastructure. Being comfortable with technology, and patient when technological problems arise is important.

The presentation will end with a discussion with the audience about their knowledge of and experience with e-mentoring, and how they have overcome challenges on their own campuses.

References

Bierema, L. L., & Merriam, S. B. (2002). E-mentoring: Using computer mediated communication to enhance the mentoring process. Innovative Higher Education, 26(3), 211-227.

Chung, C. W. (2003, June 18-20). Web communication technologies and internet-related social issues-HSI 2003: Second international conference on human society@ internet (Vol. 2). Seoul, South Korea: Springer Science & Business Media.

Council of Graduate Schools. (2010). Ph.D. completion and attrition: Policies and practices to promote student success. Ph.D. Completion Project. Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools.

Etzioni, A. E. O. (1999). Face-to-face and computer-mediated communities, a comparative analysis. The Information Society, 15(4), 241-248.

Fresno State, Office of Institutional Effectiveness. (2015). Headcount enrollment from Fall 2011 to Fall 2015. Available: https://tableau.fresnostate.edu/views/Enrollment/ Headcount?:isGuestRedirectFromVizportal=y&:embed=y.

Hamilton, B. A., & Scandura, T. A. (2003). E-mentoring: Implications for organizational learning and development in a wired world. Organizational Dynamics, 31(4), 388-402.

Khan R., & Gogos, A. (2013). Online mentoring for biotechnology graduate students: An industry academia partnership. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks17(1), 89-107.

López, M. (2015). Graduate Net Initiative summary report: Graduate student experiences and perspectives survey. Unpublished raw data.

Muller, C. B. (1997, Nov). The potential of industrial "e-mentoring" as a retention strategy for women in science and engineering. Paper presented at the Annual Frontiers in Education Conference, Pittsburgh, PA. Available: http://fairway.ecn.purdue.edu/∼fie/ fie97/papers/1268.pdf.

Single, P. B. (2004). Expanding our use of mentoring: Reflection and reaction. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association Symposium on Mentoring Scholars in Gender Equity Studies: Strengthening the Journey and Building an Inclusive Knowledge Base, San Diego, CA.

Single, P. B., & Single, R. M. (2005). E‐mentoring for social equity: review of research to inform program development. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 13(2), 301-320.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. (2016a). Fresno city, CA: Population estimate. Available: www.census.gov.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. (2016b). Fresno county, CA: Population estimate. Available: www.census.gov.