Pilot programs lay groundwork for advancing mentoring in meaningful relationships at Elon

Eight programs launched in fall 2023 involved participants from across the university community in initiatives designed to foster meaningful relationships at the university.

The successful completion of eight pilot programs focused on mentoring in meaningful relationships this spring has laid the groundwork for Elon University to advance its work in this area in the years ahead.

The eight pilot programs were created and designed by the university’s Mentoring Initiative Design Team and launched in fall 2023. The programs included areas of focus such as academic advising, developing relationships and networks as graduate students, mentoring for first-year students, peer mentoring, supporting historically underrepresented minority students and faculty and staff professional development. Collectively, the pilot programs involved 476 students, faculty and staff, with each program concluding with an analysis of its impact and potential next steps.

“One of the many dynamic features of this design work was the opportunity for expansive innovative exploration that truly reflects how all aspects of the Elon community are connected to this work,” said Professor Buffie Longmire-Avital, co-chair of the Mentoring Initiative Design Team. “Previous work on mentoring centered the faculty-student relationship and roles, while the pilot work developed by the design team was meant to be representative and inclusive of the many spaces and people across campus that sustain the mentoring ethos of Elon.”

Members of the Mentoring Initiative Design Team at work during a retreat.

The Mentoring Initiative Design Team, co-chaired by Longmire-Avital and Emily Krechel, director of new student programs, was created in fall 2022 to help achieve goals laid out in Boldly Elon, the university’s 10-year strategic plan, related to Elon’s commitment to fostering relationship-based mentoring as a key outcome of an Elon education. The plan calls for 100 percent of Elon graduates to be able to identify faculty mentors, staff mentors and peer mentors.

“The goals of the pilots were to serve as both catalyst and assessment of where capacity can be built as well as form formidable foundations for a groundbreaking model and infrastructure for mentoring at Elon,” Longmire-Avital said. “We know from our mentoring mapping work that mentoring is happening all over the campus, these pilots capture not only where there was room to grow our opportunities and services but where we could deepen already engaging work.

With the completion of these pilot programs, university will be examining how to act upon the findings and will be exploring options to integrate this work more broadly at the university.

Later this month, the university will host its inaugural Mentoring in Meaningful Relationships Summit, an invitation-only event that will bring together faculty, staff and administrative leaders from a range of higher education institutions to work on how to create environments where meaningful relationships can form and grow.

The Pilot Programs

The Phoenix Mentors

Summary: The Phoenix Mentor Program aimed to help first-year students transition to college by fostering a sense of belonging, providing academic guidance, and promoting personal development by connecting them with an upper-class peer mentor. With a 93.1% retention rate for participants and an average GPA over 3.0, the program has shown significant success. Mentors and mentees meet regularly to discuss campus resources, involvement opportunities, and personal growth, contributing to a higher retention rate and engagement in student organizations.

Who was involved: Assistant Director of New Student Programs Destiny Payne designed and executed the program. Peer Mentors were recruited from the 2023 Orientation Leader team. These student leaders expressed overwhelming interest in serving in this peer mentorship role. The 17 mentors were paired with 51 mentees. The mentees were first-year students who were identified as having no one else from their high school attending Elon.

Key takeaways:

  • Mentor Development: Mentors built connections and enhanced leadership skills, as evidenced by a post-experience survey.
  • Student Transition: Mentees had a smoother transition to Elon, with higher average GPAs (3.45 vs. 3.04) and better retention rates (93.1% vs. 89.1%) compared to non-participants. Mentees also joined two or more student organizations while participating in the program.
  • Program Impact: The program significantly benefited first-year students who attended Elon without peers from their high school. Mentors were able to support their mentees as they navigated personal development, roommate challenges, their four-year plans, technology like Moodle and OnTrack, and health issues.

What participants said:

  • “Elon does an incredible job offering peer mentoring opportunities for new students – through cohorts, with New Student Orientation, in Elon 1010, for underrepresented students, in Residence Life, through social student organizations, and many others. The gap we need to fill is for sophomores and juniors, especially when they are declaring majors and no longer have the same safety nets or structured support that is in place for our first-year students.”
  • “Academically focused student organizations are a prime place for deepening the peer mentoring that is organically happening and could be strengthened to make a significant impact on our student body – both for the mentors and the mentees.”

What’s next?: To address challenges presented in this pilot, Assistant Dean of Retention Paul Tongsri is partnering with the Director of Elon 1010 to expand the Elon 1010 Advising as Coaching pilot to include the student population this pilot attempted to capture. Additionally, Advising Fellows are going to have a case load of students that will also include first years who do not have anyone else from their high school at Elon. The Student Success Dashboard pilot is also launching this fall which will be designed to provide insights to advisors and others on a student’s success team. Shifting in this direction will allow clearer pathways to connect with students most at risk of not being retained.

The FYE Mentoring Learning Outcomes Assessment

Summary: The FYE Mentoring Learning Outcomes Assessment Pilot aimed to evaluate the extent of mentorship and meaningful relationships were occurring within and across first-year experience programs. Representatives from various departments collaborated to identify existing efforts, develop and align learning outcomes, and find gaps for cross-divisional collaboration. The pilot identified key areas for improvement and set the foundation for mapping initiatives and aligning learning outcomes across programs to enhance mentoring and engagement for incoming first-year students.

Who was involved: This work was led by Brandy S. Propst, director of Elon 1010 and assistant director of academic advising. The work group consisted of seven representatives from the signature first-year experience programs: Admissions (Evan Sprinkle), New Student Programs (Emily Krechel), Elon 1010 (Propst and Janelle Ellis-Holloway), Core Curriculum (Paula Patch), and Living & Learning at Elon (Kirsten Carrier and Jennifer Stephens).

Key takeaways:

  • The workgroup created six learning outcomes for Mentoring in Meaningful Relationships (MIMR) to be used across the signature first-year experience programs. The learning outcomes address the following areas: Peer Leadership/Mentorship, Faculty/Staff Mentoring, Student Learning/Awareness, and Mentor Opportunities/Planning.
  • In addition to the learning outcomes, the workgroup developed recommendations for mapped initiatives and programs to meet the recommended FYE MIMR learning outcomes and that align with the MIMR framework. These mapped initiatives also outline methods of assessment and campus partners/stakeholders.

What participants said: “Mentoring in the first year occurs in a multitude of ways, in both curricular and co-curricular spaces, so it was impactful having a team of faculty and staff from across campus working together to pilot holistic mentoring outcomes for first-year students. The energy and creativity that came from this pilot leaves me excited for the ways this work will help to enhance the First-Year Experience at Elon.”

What’s next?: In the coming months, leaders of the FYE signature programs will work to infuse the newly developed learning outcomes into their current structures and programs. This will include an evaluation of programs and developing new initiatives (or retooling existing ones) to ensure programs are achieving all learning outcomes.

Orienting Graduate Students to Mentoring & Meaningful Relationships

Summary: The graduate programs at Elon include 786 students. This pilot effort aimed to foster skills training for establishing meaningful mentoring relationships despite challenges such as varied program structures.. The pilot initiative introduced a flexible mentoring framework to enhance student well-being and belonging, focusing on equitable access to mentoring opportunities. The program featured interactive workshops on cultivating relationships and intentional networking, tailored to different graduate schedules, with additional events like a welcome reception to promote engagement among students, faculty, and alumni.

Who was involved: Helen Grant and Elena Kennedy, members of the Mentoring Initiative Design Team, led the development and execution of this pilot. Additionally, the pilot involved four key partners: Elon Law, Love School of Business, Center for Design Thinking and Student Professional Development Center. The key participants of this programming were incoming JD (168 students), MBA (14) and MSBA students (26).

Key takeaways:

  • Positive Reception: Despite logistical issues, both training sessions were well received, with dual workshops adding more value but needing separation for better engagement.
  • Evaluation Results: Most participants already had mentoring relationships, but expressed a need for more guidance on building these connections and desired more interaction opportunities with mentors, faculty, and alumni.
  • Graduate Student Needs: Greater support for mentoring, more frequent connection opportunities, advising improvements, and professional mentorships are necessary. There is a call for additional resources like dedicated spaces, events, and specific staff for graduate students.
  • Resource Requirements: Successful implementation of the mentoring program requires increased personnel and financial resources, as well as consistent programmatic coordination and support from the university.

What’s next?: Support for graduate students continues to be a priority for the institution.

Handbook for Elevating the Advising Relationship (HEAR)

Summary: The Advising Working Group developed the Handbook for Elevating the Advising Relationship (HEAR) to enhance faculty advising at Elon University. The HEAR, launched as a Moodle course, includes resources, tools, and prompts aimed at deepening faculty-student connections, particularly during the sophomore and junior years. A pilot program in Spring 2024 involved 36 faculty members, with feedback indicating that centralized resources and pre-advising surveys improved the efficiency and depth of advising sessions.

Who was involved: Jeff Carpenter, Professor of Education, Director of the Elon Teaching Fellows Program, convened the group; Kenneth Brown Jr., Assistant Director, First-Generation Student Support Services; Jen Hamel, Associate Professor of Biology and Associate Director of Undergraduate Research; Scott Hayward, Associate Professor of Management; Karen Neff, Assistant Director, Elon Charlotte; Paul Tongsri, Assistant Dean for Student Success and Retention

Key takeaways:

  • Centralizing advising resources is valuable but challenging due to varied needs across majors and units.
  • Survey information on advisees enhances advising meetings by clarifying goals and discussion topics.
  • Organizing extensive advising content in an accessible manner is difficult.
  • Faculty advisors have diverse needs based on their disciplines and advising loads.
  • Inconsistent department-level advising training exists.
  • Initial communications between advisors and new advisees need improvement to strengthen relationships from the start.
  • Further development and assessment of advising resources are necessary.

What’s next?: The HEAR will continue to exist on Moodle and should continue to be developed. Re-engaging the Academic Advising Committee would be a critical next step and a potential home for THE HEAR work – The Academic Advising Committee works with the Executive Director of the Koenigsberger Learning Center to understand, develop, and implement best practices for academic advising on the Elon University campus. These practices include services in the Office of Academic Advising as well as school specific advising programs.

Meaningful Relationships as an Equity-Driving Support System for Historically Underrepresented Minority Students Summary: SMART

Summary: The SMART Mentoring Program at Elon, through the Center for Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity Education (CREDE), supports first-year ALANAM students by promoting academic success, social integration, and leadership development. The 2024-25 pilot aimed to enhance peer mentors’ professional and personal development using the Intercultural Development Inventory Assessment. Mentors developed intercultural plans, engaged in regular reviews, and faculty and staff were integrated into the mentoring structure to enrich the mentee experience. This approach fostered a stronger sense of belonging and academic identity among participants.

Who was involved: CREDE as well as four student coordinators, 30 mentors, 63 mentees and 23 faculty/staff members during the 2023-24 academic year.

Peer mentors in Elon University’s SMART Mentoring program

Key takeaways:

  • Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) Use: IDI helped mentors deepen self-awareness of cultural biases and assumptions. It facilitated the creation of personalized intercultural development plans.
  • Engagement Levels of Mentors: Some mentors actively followed their Intercultural Learning Plans, sharing and reflecting regularly. Others were less engaged, hesitant to share experiences or pursue development goals.
  • Challenges with Support and Capacity: Capacity constraints limited personalized support from student coordinators and CREDE professional staff. This affected the intended effectiveness of IDI as a developmental tool. Leaders of SMART decided not to use IDI next year due to these challenges.
  • Integration of Faculty and Staff in SMART Program: Initial enthusiasm and active participation of faculty and staff in family events. Decreased involvement over time due to availability constraints. Successful off-campus event improved relationships and understanding among all participants.
  • Overall Program Direction: Focus on finding tools and methodologies that better align with program capacity and goals. Aim to foster stronger and more consistent relationships between mentors, mentees, faculty, and staff.

What’s next?: As a long-standing, successful, peer-mentorship program, SMART will continue to focus on adopting a more structured approach to engagement with faculty and staff. Leaders of the program will explore flexible pathways that will align with faculty and staff schedules and explore the potential from engaging with Employee Resource Groups.

Expanding the Peer Mentor Model

Summary: How or why do students come to see themselves as a mentor or someone who is responsible for and capable of cultivating meaningful relationships with their peers? Through two communities of practices (COPs), this question (and others) was explored with the goal of enhancing the leadership development journey for Elon students. Additionally, these COPs sought to gather tools, best practices, thoughts and ideas about peer-to-peer mentoring at Elon.

Who was involved: The COPs were led by Jodean Schmeiderer , dean of student development, and Brooke Buffington, assistant vice president for Student Professional Development Center.

Key takeaways:

  • Many formal peer mentoring programs focus on new students’ university transition and are often social in nature. Mentor training varies, with assumptions about student knowledge and emphasis on skill development or resource education.
  • Some new students struggle to engage with assigned mentors or utilize available resources like orientation leaders, Elon 1010 peer educators or resident advisers.
  • Effective peer mentoring requires clear roles and comprehensive mentor training.
  • Many students take on mentoring roles due to a lack of mentors who share their identities.
  • Few programs extend peer mentoring beyond the first year or into professional and academic guidance, which is crucial for sophomores selecting majors.
  • Student organizations, like fraternities/sororities, AKPsi, and club sports, often foster authentic peer mentoring. Enhancing guidance and training in these groups can strengthen mentoring culture.
  • Advising organizations could redefine their purpose to include mentoring organization leaders, encouraging faculty/staff to mentor and model meaningful relationships, and teaching upper-level students mentoring skills.

What’s next?: There are numerous avenues for students to engage in peer mentorship. However, their training does not consistently focus on developing peer mentoring skills. In order to ensure students are well-prepared to build effective peer mentoring and meaningful relationships, our faculty and staff members will need to develop their own skills or competencies around mentoring, their understanding of how peer mentoring/meaningful relationships can be effective and include more effective training or materials for their students in peer mentoring roles.

The Student Advising Mentor

Summary: The Student Advising Mentor program supported first- and second-year students within specific majors (Love School of Business, Psychology and Public Health Studies) by offering academic guidance, identifying resources, and assisting with faculty advisor interactions. Mentoring sessions focused on major-specific success strategies, advising preparation, graduation planning, experiential learning, and fostering a supportive community among peers within each major.

Who was involved: Director of Academic Advising Kathy Ziga led this pilot development and implementation. She partnered with the Love School of Business, Psychology and Public Health Studies majors to help offset large advising caseloads in those areas.

Key takeaways:

  • Participant Motivation: Student advising mentors joined the program primarily to share their knowledge and provide guidance to newer students. One mentor highlighted the opportunity to get involved and offer insights they wished they had received.
  • Student Engagement: Meeting frequency with students varied. The fall semester yielded the most engagement. Mentors who met with students reported positive outcomes from peer-to-peer advising conversations.
  • Marketing and Communication Challenges: Lack of awareness among students about the program was a significant issue highlighted by mentors. Suggestions were made to improve advertising through professors and school communications to increase program visibility.
  • Capacity Challenges: Capacity emerged as the primary challenge for the student advising mentors program. Running the program effectively would require significant dedicated effort, covering activities from recruitment to assessment.
  • Impact of the Program: Benefits include providing first- and second-year students with valuable advising and planning insights, developing mentoring skills in returning students, and offering additional resources to faculty advisors. The potential impact is substantial, though requiring substantial investment to achieve at scale.

What participants said: “[My student advising mentor] is so sweet and extremely helpful. I feel so much better about the courses I’m taking and have planned for the rest of my time at Elon. She also helped calm my nerves regarding research and how to get started. I will definitely reach out to her again if I ever have any more questions.”

What’s next?: While the potential impact of this program is substantial, it requires substantial resources to achieve at scale. Given other demands on the Academic Advising Office, this program will not continue into the next academic year.

Bolstering Your Mentoring Skillset Professional Development Pilot

Summary: This pilot program aimed to enhance the mentoring skills of staff and faculty from across campus through a structured experience consisting of a pre-assessment, the completion of a LinkedIn Learning Pathway, participation in two community of practice sessions, and a post-assessment to measure their growth. Participants engaged in the asynchronous and self-selected learning within the LinkedIn Learning Pathway aimed at developing their skills in the four competency areas: cultivating empowered relationships with others, supporting growth and learning, developing your critical consciousness, and enhancing your own interpersonal skills. The community of practice sessions served as a time for participants to gather, meet colleagues, deepen those connections, discuss what they are learning, and any challenges they are experiencing within their meaningful relationships.

Who was involved: Director of New Student Programs Emily Krechel led the creation and implementation of the pilot for 41 participants: Seven from Academic Affairs, six from Admissions & Financial Aid, two faculty (psychology and strategic communications), seven from Finance & Administration (5 of whom are from facilities), one from Inclusive Excellence, one from the Law School, one from the Office of the President, four from Student Life, three from University Advancement, four from University Athletics, five from University Communications. Seven of the 41 staff are hourly. Position ranks everywhere from entry-level through mid-level, no senior leadership.

Key takeaways:

  • Participants greatly appreciated having the opportunity to engage in self-paced, asynchronous courses, where they could learn, take notes, and digest the information before coming to the Community of Practice where they then could connect with colleagues and discuss how it applies to their meaningful relationships.
  • Participants overwhelmingly felt the four mentoring competencies identified captured the skillsets required to bolster meaningful relationships.
  • For participants who have more experience mentoring, they felt the LinkedIn Learning Pathway courses were too basic and would have appreciated more structured Community of Practice sessions.
  • Most participants found the Community of Practice sessions invaluable and enjoyed connecting with colleagues from across the institution.

What participants said:

  • “This was a great program and I hope to keep revisiting these modules to help not only myself grow as an Elon employee and person but to also share what I have learned with those I surround myself with daily.”
  • “I REALLY enjoyed this pilot. With due respect to the many trainings on campus, often I leave wishing we had talked about the application of the information we had reviewed and find that most of the time is spent telling us what we are about to learn than actually learning it. This was very different. I have completed this with steps toward practical application, key phrasing that is easy to implement, and some self-reflection on my own competencies and opportunities for growth. It was great!”
  • “I am grateful for every opportunity I have to connect with people across campus. I find it so valuable to hear from different divisions about their strategies around mentorship and development. I appreciate the connection for my own benefit, and the value different perspectives bring to honing my mentorship skills.”
  • “The community of practice sessions were IMMENSELY helpful in applying what I learned from LinkedIn to my real-world relationships. I found that taking notes while watching the videos helped me learn the material but having groups of people to talk about the videos with helped me think of real-world applications for what we just learned. It also helped me gain even more perspectives and ways of thinking about the competencies by hearing what my peers took away, also knowing that we all could have watched different videos.”

What’s next?: To effectively implement a Mentoring in Meaningful Relationships framework across campus, we must provide staff and faculty ample opportunities to bolster their mentoring skillset. If we pour into the development of our staff, they will find ways to pour into the students, colleagues, peers, and others. This will shift our culture. It is the hope of the MDT that professional development, both in-person and asynchronous experiences, continues to be offered as a means to help staff and faculty develop. Future experiences could include participants developing a Personal Action Plan and being paired with an accountability partner whom they could check-in with regularly. This could meet the needs of staff on campus and regional employees.