Online Graduate Student Grit Strategies: Positive Mentoring Bridging Expectations, Emotional Intelligence, and Diversity Intelligence

Equity and Inclusion

Brief Abstract

Faculty work with an increasingly diverse student body.  Leveraging strategies to best engage and mentor online graduate students can be challenging. Join us to learn about student grit strategies through a positive mentoring model that bridges student expectations, emotional intelligence, and diversity intelligence for developing resilient and successful students.

Sponsored By


Dr. Kristensen has over 30 years of higher education administration and teaching experience. Dr. Kristensen served in the U.S. Army as an intelligence analyst and German linguist. She is an accreditation peer reviewer for The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). She also serves as a panel reviewer for professional organizations. Research interests include institutional effectiveness, change management, transfer of learning, influence, sustainability, leadership, organizational behavior, and issues affecting veterans. Dr. Kristensen participates in various positive social change activities including environmental sustainment, veterans affairs, and education. She is the summer 2019 College of Management and Technology Faculty Excellence Award recipient.
Dr. Barry Sugarman currently serves as Dean, Learning Pathways & School of Lifelong Learning at Walden University. Prior to joining Walden University, Dr. Sugarman served as Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs/Chief Academic Officer at Divine Mercy University (DMU) in Arlington, Virginia, where he also oversaw marketing, enrollment, and admissions services. Additionally, Barry spearheaded the launch of DMU's first fully online degree programs. Dr. Sugarman also worked at Laureate Education for 4 1/2 years and served as Vice President for Program Design and Product Operations. Barry has over 25 years of experience in the higher education, electronic publishing, and technology sectors. He co-designed the Global MBA Program for the Anahuac University Network in Mexico and held product and technology management positions at Lexis-Nexis, Disclosure, SkyTel as well as the National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Sugarman has been active in advising a variety of non-profit organizations on education and online learning issues. Additionally, Barry led a team for the American Council of Education that defined standards for online learning in a Gates Foundation-funded project designed to create a more flexible pathway towards postsecondary education attainment for the more than 31 million non-traditional students who may have some college credit but no degree. Dr. Sugarman completed his Ph.D. in Education at Columbia University, his MBA in Market Research at Pace University, and his BA in Psychology at University of Rochester.
Dr. Tom Butkiewicz is a core research faculty member in the PhD in Management program (College of Management and Technology). His scholarly experience includes dissertation chair, second committee member, URR, lead faculty for dissertation and research courses, mentor at residencies, and reviewer for the International Journal of Applied Management and Technology. He functioned as a committee member voting on the Curriculum and Academic Policy committee. Tom serves as the vice president on the leadership board for the Walden University Virtual Fulbright Association. He also fulfills the role of faculty advisor for the National Society of Leadership and Success. Tom's research interests consist of management, positive leadership, business strategies, organizational behavior, workplace spirituality, emotional intelligence, social change, diversity, appreciative inquiry, and virtue ethics. He worked 26 years in the auto industry for Mitsubishi Motors in operations management, corporate strategic planning, training and development, marketing, district and region management, and customer service. Tom proudly concluded 20 years of honorable service as a Chief Warrant Officer—CWO3 in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. Dr. John C. Maxwell, International Leadership Expert certified Tom as a Global Leadership Speaker, Coach, and Trainer equipped to partner with individuals groups, teams, and organizations for influencing positive social change. Tom pursues positive social change further by supporting the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) society. His commitment to the MS Society involves fundraising via community walks, and bicycle rides for 18 years. Tom's positive social change focus also is shown by membership in the strategic development committee for a new church building project in CA.

Extended Abstract

Faculty mentors strive to develop sustainable and impactful relationships with students, which can be particularly difficult in fully online learning environments.  One challenge is that faculty work with students who struggle with simultaneously managing personal, professional, and school-related obligations.  Academic institutions do provide a plethora of resources for both students and faculty. Yet, often missing from the student support experience are initiatives to help struggling students develop grit and resilience.  Faculty, who are closest to students on their learning journey, are ideally positioned to provide positive mentoring towards helping these students succeed.


The proposed positive mentoring model involves emotional intelligence, diversity intelligence and bridging students’ expectations towards helping them develop grit strategies.  In order to function as positive mentors, faculty themselves must go through a self-discovery process that is discussed with practical applications in this session.  Incorporating, expectancy theory, diversity intelligence, transformative learning theory, emotional intelligence, positive psychology, resilience, and grit, we will propose a practical positive mentoring model faculty can incorporate to help students recognize how they can tap into perseverance and resilience to be more successful in their academic programs.


Expectancy theory was developed initially regarding employment scenarios relating to an employees’ personality, knowledge, skills, and abilities (Vroom, 1964).  However, given the trend to refer to students as customers, combined with students who perceive their education as a product they purchase, expectancy theory is an apt lens through which to view student expectations.  Faculty have noted it is increasingly common for students to view an educational experience as a transaction to pay for a grade or degree, regardless of the effort they put into their studies.  Framing student expectations may help mitigate negative perceptions and experiences throughout an educational program that might lead to positive outcomes.  Faculty will be better able to engage in this framing process by recognizing their own emotional competence framework.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman (2000) determined, “Emotional intelligence is the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.”  Goleman identified five elements that make up emotional intelligence: (a) self-awareness by knowing what one is feeling and understanding the impact those moods have on others, (b) self-regulation for controlling or redirecting one’s emotions; anticipating consequences before acting on impulse, (c) motivation to use emotional factors to achieve goals, enjoy the learning process and persevere in the face of obstacles, and (d) empathy for sensing the emotions of others and understanding their perspectives.  Even if faculty already have many of the elements of emotional intelligence, it is important to look for opportunities to build it further.  An interactive exercise for self-discovery is included in this session.  Attendees are invited to complete a 15 question self-assessment online.  So, “How Emotionally Intelligent Are You?” is the question for this self-assessment and reflection via MindTools.  Self-awareness and reflection though emotional intelligence can help equip faculty with a more in-depth view of their preconceptions and perceptions of normative behaviors, especially when working with a diverse population of multicultural students sensitive to diversity, equity, and inclusion.  The outcome is for faculty to further influence positive social change in the communities they serve by implementing emotional intelligence and diversity intelligence strategies for developing resilient and successful students.

Diversity intelligence is the capability of individuals to recognize the value of diversity and to use this information to guide thinking and behavior (Hughes, 2018).  Positive mentoring of graduate students in 2020 certainly involves recognizing that diversity intelligence serves as a foundation for serving students in online learning.  Faculty should reliably demonstrate an awareness of differing cultures, viewpoints, and competencies as well as practice flexibility in managing courses.  Positive mentoring operationalizes diversity intelligence based on a purposeful intention to understand, accept fully, and value differences and similarities between people in multicultural environments that lead to improving human conditions for academic success.  Attendees of this session engage further by conducting a Diversity Intelligence Exercise, which includes two components: individual and group for table discussion.  The individual engagement activity includes two self-assessment questions.  The group component consists of five reflective questions that uncover the mentor’s purposeful intentions for communicating with students based on similarities and differences.       

Many of our students face a disconnect regarding their beliefs and realities in their academic journey.  Transformative learning theory is an adult learning theory that involves disorienting situations to challenge thinking (Mezirow, 2003).  Individuals use critical thinking and questioning to evaluate the extent to which their underlying assumptions and beliefs about their circumstances are correct.  Recognizing that students face disorienting situations during their academic journey may better prepare faculty to mentor and facilitate learning.

While it is important to acknowledge negative experiences, it is also essential to challenge habits of mind by encouraging a positive mindset.  Positive psychology involves the characteristics, conditions, and processes that lead to flourishing (Grenville-Cleave, 2012). Grenville-Cleave (2012) posited that researching what goes right for individuals is as valuable as researching what goes wrong.  Seligman (2002) identified three pillars of positive psychology: (a) positive experiences, (b) positive individual traits, and (c) positive institutions. Attendees can complete a self-assessment about transformative learning by answering 10 questions on faculty personal factors in Halupa’s (2017) Transformative Learning Readiness Scale.  A Likert-type scale corresponds to the points allotted for interpretation of this instrument.    

There are a variety of life experiences that contribute to an individual’s resilience and grit.  Resilience refers to an individual’s ability to adapt and thrive when faced with challenges (Campbell-Sills & Stein, 2007).  Incorporating strategies that help students recognize habits they can use to enhance their resilience can help them be more successful.  Session attendees may also complete two self-assessments to measure resilience and grit to give them a more specific and practical sense of what it means for their students.  Siebert (2006) created “How Resilient Are You?” for attendees to answer 15 questions to reveal their resiliency score and interpretation based on over 30 years of research.  Duckworth (2007) designed a Grit Scale of 10 questions based on two traits that predict achievement: grit and self-control.  Grit is the tendency to sustain passion and perseverance toward long-term goals.  Another takeaway in this session is for attendees to complete a “next step” action plan handout.  Attendees will think of one student who is truly in need of some grit and can leave this session with the resolution to apply what they have learned to that student.  Advancing positive mentoring requires diversity intelligence, emotional intelligence, and faculty behavior for student resilience and grit outcomes.  Faculty are critical toward student success at every stage of the learning journey, so a positive mentoring model is paramount for bridging expectations, emotional intelligence, and diversity intelligence towards helping students develop grit strategies.