A constellation model, in which students have multiple meaningful relationships with peers, staff and faculty, among others who provide multifaceted support and guidance, acknowledges the complex realities of developmental relationships and the continuum along which mentoring occurs. In this model, mentoring relationships become one of many kinds of relationships that, together, provide a supportive context for learning and development. Because mentoring relationships are sustained, developmental and learner-centered, it is imperative that we scaffold opportunities for students to develop agency to build mentoring relationships throughout their time at Elon, through diverse pathways in the curriculum and co-curriculum. A mentoring constellation framework fits our institutional context and offers opportunities for mentors to connect with and support each other and their mentees.

Throughout the self-study, a number of compelling questions and emergent tensions surfaced around topics such as academic and student life mentorship; formal and informal mentoring structures; the necessity of training and time/capacity/resources to undertake it; selective, programmatic mentoring and scaling up; students’ need for mentors from marginalized identities; and saturation, capacity, and overloading a few, highly sought and talented mentors. The mentoring initiatives developed out of this self-study must be responsive to emergent contextual challenges, integrated with our work on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and considerate of human and systems capacities that bear the strains of scale, scope and quality.

Participants in the ACE LSL interview study offered their support for a mentoring constellation model:

“I feel like there’s somebody who is an expert in every area of my life. There’s a big intersectionality with all parts of my identity. So that’s very, very important because I may not understand all the aspects of all the things that I am, but at least there’s somebody that knows enough about one aspect.”

(Perspective of a mentee)

“I think it’s useful to have a number of people who serve different needs, and it helps people develop a sense of belonging, it helps people develop a sense of, ‘I can problem solve, I can figure out who I need to talk to or what I need to do next in order to address whatever issue is going on in my life.’”

(Perspective of a mentor)

“I love this whole idea about the constellation of mentors … part of my role as a mentor is connecting them to other people. And that’s such an important part because often I’m not the right person. … By modeling collaboration and demonstrating it, and then promoting it and facilitating it, I see that as an important part of what we do, absolutely.”

(Perspective of a mentor)

“The question is, if there’s a constellation, how are students making connections? It’s not just creating the constellation, it’s who’s helping them see it, who’s helping them make sense of their place in the constellation and their connections between the experiences? And again, I do think it is possible to just say, ‘Constellation of mentors, every student has one.’ But being Elon, I want us to go to the next step of, ‘Where’s the integration, where’s the conscious reflection, the making sense of [strengths, interests and values]?’”

(Perspective of a mentor)