IT is widely cited that the concept of mentoring originated from the character Mentor in Homer’s Odyssey.
In the ancient Greek epic poem dating back to 3,000 years ago, Mentor was the son of Heracles and a friend of Odysseus.
Odysseus entrusted his son, Telemachus, to Mentor before he left for the Trojan War. Mentor’s role was to provide advice, guidance and support to Telemachus in his father’s absence.
In contemporary times, a mentor usually focuses on guiding someone in transitioning from one life stage to another such as in studies, career and relationships with the intention towards productive maturity.
It is a relationship that builds on mutual openness, trust and respect, usually with a younger person drawing wisdom from an older person who is credible and is known to have unique success stories and setbacks which have become valuable lessons.
Mentoring has consistently proven to be an effective tool to help undergraduates transition to tertiary studies, have better well-being and develop meaningful goals.
The recent Gallup-Purdue Index surveyed 30,000 American college graduates and found that those who are most engaged in their work and feel the greatest sense of well-being had mentors who made them “excited about learning”, cared about them “as a person”, or encouraged them to pursue their goals.
With university campuses reopening, what will a post-pandemic world look like?
Transition is often associated with change and the unknown, which often raises emotional responses and reactivity.
Mentoring is a human-centred strategy which can be used to facilitate this transition.
There are opportunities for universities to reimagine, rethink and redesign their mentoring programmes to help students as they transition back to their campuses with hybrid learning being the core delivery.
This transition is not just a physical transition from home to the physical campus, but also one which involves the “whole person”.
In academia, mentoring is often used to explore students’ academic goals, study skills and social adjustments in classes.
There is an increased focus on the “whole person” where conversational space is also given to explore topics beyond academics such as emotional well-being, mental well-being, personal challenges, and the question of discovering life’s purpose.
Are teaching and mentoring different concepts?
Teachers help students to understand a body of knowledge and its application in their disciplines while making meaning of what they have learned.
While a teacher teaches from the context of the curriculum, knowledge and professional experience, mentors impart from the context of their own life experiences and are often credited with life-changing inspiration and guidance.
Often, the role of a teacher and mentor is interchangeable.
Structured mentoring allows for students to have a mentor whom they can seek out when they need guidance and inspiration, but it may not appeal to everyone as it may seem awkward since the mentoring relationship is arranged, rather than chosen willingly.
However, structured mentoring can flourish once the ice has been broken between both mentor and mentee.
Organic mentoring happens naturally when a student recognises that the mentor is someone whom the student sees as a role model of integrity and wholeness.
Be it structured or organic, mentoring can be used as an effective tool to facilitate students’ transition.
Undergraduates who are in a mentoring relationship have better opportunities to improve their learning experience and academic progression, thus improving student retention.
It also increases their sense of belonging, academic motivation, and intention to persist in the face of challenges.
Students are thus better able to cope with managing stress and anxiety during the transition.
Mentoring boosts students’ confidence as they are also given space for affirmation and to turn their blind spots into opportunities for improvement.
It helps to inspire reflection in students and encourages them to own their learning.
Mentors also benefit from this. They get to make meaning of their role in service to others through the gift of self, which is being vulnerable to disclose stories that bring learning illustrations.
There is a sense of fulfilment knowing that students can reach out to them and draw from their life experiences.
They become motivated in their academic work as they get to know the real lives of students and play a role in challenging them, as well as helping them grow.
I met an elderly gentleman in an event one day and he told me, “You young people are very intelligent these days”, citing the use of technologies and the easy accessibility we have to seek knowledge.
I answered, “Sir, we may seem intelligent but at the same time, we lack wisdom which life experiences can bring.”
To the old, your gift is the gift of wisdom to the young, and to the young, yours is the gift of giving the older ones meaning and fulfilment. These gifts can be enjoyed in the process of mentoring.
As we begin to enter a post-Covid-19 world, let us consider mentoring as a noble practice in helping those who are in need to transition effectively to a place where they will thrive and flourish.
Janaronson Nagarajah is the Student Development director at Taylor’s University Centre for Future Learning. He is responsible for pioneering First-Year Learning and Mentoring (FLAME) to assist newly enrolled first-year students in settling into university and college, and gearing them towards achieving their personal learning goals. The programme is centred around a holistic approach focusing on safe space creation for mentors and mentees to have meaningful conversations while navigating transitional challenges in their academics and beyond. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.