Student Mentoring: An Exploration of the Benefits of a Partnership Approach to Student Mentoring and Peer Assisted Programme

I am a Senior Lecturer at the University of Derby on the BA Applied Social Work Programme, in which one of my responsibilities is being a Year 1 tutor. As part of this role I design and facilitate the Year 1 Induction Programme as well as overseeing the progress of Year 1 students and trouble-shooting any issues arising during the students’ first year of study. Having taken up my post at the University in 2012 and taken on the Year 1 Tutor role in 2013 I was keen to develop the support available to year 1 students. Last year I created a video to showcase the work the students had done with the mentoring programme, which can be seen here:  

The process has developed since this video recording, now including all three year groups having some kind of access to the mentoring progress, with the 3rd years being mentored by some graduates. 

In early 2016 I started to talk to my colleagues about the possibility of providing student mentors to year 1 students. It was agreed that I would approach 5 students from year 2 and year 3 students on the programme with a view to them taking on a mentoring role with the incoming year 1 students. It is worthy of note that the 5 students approached all enthusiastically said yes when offered the chance to become mentors. This enthusiasm has been replicated when other students have subsequently been approached to expand the project. It is also appropriate to say that those students who were approached to become mentors were chosen on the basis of having demonstrated a high level of commitment to the programme. I took the view that this would be an essential component for an effective mentor. At this stage the idea was very much in its infancy. It was envisaged that the mentors would each be allocated to a tutor group of 12 students and that they would be available to those students by email and also by attending tutor group sessions.  

The incoming year 1 students would have the opportunity to contact their mentor if there was an issue that they preferred to raise with a fellow student rather than an academic member of staff. Once the academic year started in September 2016 the year 1 student group quickly took a decision to create their own Facebook group in order to provide academic and personal support to each other. It was decided that the 5 mentors should become part of the Facebook group and this proved to be the most effective part of the Mentoring Programme at this stage. Year 1 students can raise queries on Facebook regarding any issue about the Social Work programme and the input from the mentors has been reported as very helpful. It should be noted that academic staff are not part of the Facebook group; I take the view that this has been a helpful decision as students see the Facebook group as a safe place where they can raise issues without feeling conscious of staff interference or judgement. In January 2017 I met the mentors to review the project. The consensus was that the Facebook group had been the most successful element thus far. I suggested to them that the project could be expanded so that there would be a larger number of mentors and that the mentors might take a significant role in the Induction of Year 1 students.  

The normal pattern of Induction had previously been 4 days of talks and activities for the new entrants. Within these 4 days was a 1-hour slot run by students from year 2 entitled “Things I Wish I Had Known on Day One”. This had always proved a popular part of the Induction programme. At the review we concluded that mentors could, in future, run 2 of the 4 days of Induction with various talks and activities designed to give new students a much more complete overview of the Social Work Programme from the point of view of existing students. We also concluded at the review that it would make sense for mentors to take responsibility for helping the students run an election to elect 2 student representatives to advocate for fellow year 1 students to the academic staff and to the university as a whole. Therefore, in April 2017 I approached 16 year 1 students to ask if they might be interested in taking on a mentor role for the students due to commence year 1 in September 2017. Once again, every student who I approached agreed enthusiastically to take on the role. In fact, nearly all of these students said that they felt honoured to have been asked to take on such a role. The 16 students who were approached were chosen because of their level of engagement with the Social Work Programme. They included some very strong academic achievers as well as others who had demonstrated significant engagement in their studies. I convened a meeting with these and the existing mentors where we agreed the following:  

  • Creation of a Facebook group over the summer to include all new Year 1 students and all of the mentors.  
  • Mentors to arrange 2 full days of Year 1 Induction with topics covering a range of academic and support issues. 
  • Mentors to be allocated to specific year 1 students so that the new students would have a ‘named buddy’ with whom they could raise queries relating to the Social Work Programme.
  •  Mentors to organise the election of student reps from the incoming Year 1 group. It was agreed at this meeting that those students who had been approached to become mentors would be sensitive to those who had not and would recognise that any sense of elitism needed to be avoided. Alongside the development of the Mentoring Programme I took a decision to invite a number of students to assist me with some of my teaching for the 2017-18 academic year. I invited a number of students who had achieved particularly high grades with specific module assignments to help with assignment guidance for these modules. I also decided to ask some students who had demonstrated particular skills or knowledge regarding some subjects to assist in providing teaching input for these subjects. Once again, all students who have been asked to help in this way have enthusiastically said yes, often mentioning a sense of feeling honoured to be asked. The student led Induction which took place in September 2017 was very well received by the freshers’ group.  

The overwhelming view was that the input of the mentors was the most useful part of the 4-day induction programme. Comments indicated that the new students appreciated the input and support of students from years 2 and 3. Comments also indicate that the new students found it easier to raise questions and concerns with students than raising such queries with members of staff. Feedback from the mentors also indicated that they have really enjoyed being involved in this project. Again, an overwhelming response was the sense of honour in being asked to be a part of the project. Other feedback included a sense of being trusted, by being allowed the freedom to write their own content for the induction sessions, along with a feeling of having experience of developing confidence in public speaking.  

There were also a number of comments about developing relationships with students across the programme so that there was a sense of identity across the whole Social Work cohort rather than their own year group. Fast forward to 2019, we have just recruited 25 mentors from Year 1 who will support the freshers starting in September. This year students nominated people who they thought would make good student mentors, with the vast majority who were nominated chose to accept the nomination. There are over 20 mentors in Year 2 who will continue to support our current 1st Years as they move into their second year. Along with over 10 Year 3 students who have said they will be happy to carry on as mentors, when they move into employment. The mentors are generating new ideas, such as mentor led library tours and mentor led module guidance. There is a clear sense of partnership between the mentors and myself. It is exciting to imagine where this project may next take us. 

To find out more please contact: Gavin Jinks. Lecturer in Social & Community Studies. 

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