Merab Mushfiq, is a PhD student in the School of Education at the York University, Canada. Her major research interests lie in the area of internationalization, international students, along with teaching and learning. She is also an Associate Director of STAR Scholars Network, Peer Reviewer of YU Journal, Research Coordinator of Leadership Council at CACUSS, and a part of a production team at Journal of Comparative of International Education.
The landscape of higher education has been changing since COVID-19, because universities had to either shut down or pause their various programming. Almost all institutions had to pivot to online learning and students faced many challenges and obstacles throughout the pandemic. Because of these changes and shifts with online learning it was even harder for students to engage with their peers, community on-campus, and faculty. Students in higher education are being encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities, network with professionals, socialize and make friends, and participate in various activities that align with their goals and future desires to establish themselves as successful in their careers. However, there are still barriers, challenges, and lack of resources for these students to explore their interests and gain experiences and skills that are needed to thrive and flourish in a personal and professional life.
In order to set students up for success, many universities have developed mentoring programs. Mentors have the opportunity to empower and encourage students, they can support students in their professional development and can push them to achieve their goals. Mentors usually share their own experiences and lessons they have learned from their own experiences and create a positive impact on their mentee. Additionally, mentoring builds resilience, sense of belonging, and gives goals and aspirations to achieve in professional life for mentees. There are many benefits for mentors and mentees both through formal or informal mentor/mentee relationship. Some of the benefits of being a mentor include continuously improvement in active listening, empathy, improved reflection practices, leadership skills, management qualities, sense of fulfillment, and many others. Of course, there are many benefits for a mentee as well but mostly it helps a mentee to achieve their goals, personal and professional growth, increases your communication skills, confidence, new perspectives and knowledge of a specific career with insights given from a mentor. While most institutions have some kind of mentoring programs available in somewhat capacities on-campus before COVID-19, it is now even more important for mentoring programs in place to support students after the COVID-19 impact. These programs need to be continuously being revised and updated based on students’ feedback, reflections, and assessment results so that students are being fully supported. For those institutions who are focused on improving student success and engagement, they need to have various models of mentoring programs to show their effective implementation of these programs successfully. These institutions can be a role model for other institutions to adopt and develop their own mentoring programs.
However, mentors need proper training of how they can support their mentees, real hands-on activities and guidance so that they can build relationships with their mentees. Thus, it is important that there are proper mentoring programs with structure in place to support mentors and mentees. It is a two-way street where both mentors and mentees have to put in effort to cultivate a long-term relationship and for that institutions need to play a key role. It is institutions’ responsibility to develop effective mentoring programs where students are matched with a mentor based on their preferences, aspirations, and goals that they would like to achieve. Mentoring programs can be broad or specific to programs and services such as:
- First-year student mentoring programs to support students transition into the higher education system
- Academic support for students who have specific goals to achieve such as graduate school, medical school, prestigious scholarships, conferences etc
- Career navigation to prepare these students through mentors who can help them in networking and guide them to be job ready
- Social support where mentors can support their mentees by helping them connect to their campus community and mentees can develop a sense of belonging and start creating social connections and building relationships
- Targeted mentoring programs for graduate students, international students, first-generation, veterans, etc. This would be another added benefit for these diverse students to gain confidence and get to build their skills and confidence
It is important to understand that due to COVID-19 and many other uncertainties, students need proper support from their respective institutions whether it is in terms of mental health support, academic advising, career navigation, social connection, transitioning from high school to university and then to professional career etc. Proper support systems in place would help these students to feel welcome and safe in their institutions, and would also open opportunities to connect with their mentors. Having a mentor would establish their confidence, and they would be able to get ready to lead and succeed in their career and professional lives. Also, having a proper mentoring program would transform students’ lives and other benefits that would come with it such as increased student engagement, collaborations, retention rates, and positive attitudes and changes in personal and professional life.
While there are many benefits of mentoring programs in higher education, students are not aware of these resources or if they do, they do not know how to utilize these resources for their own good. It is very important to bring awareness of such programs to the student body and through creative ways. This shows the importance of mentoring programs and what it means to have a mentor. Student affairs professionals, staff, and faculty can all play an important role in providing their students with opportunities to understand mentoring programs and how these programs are specifically created for these students. Because of the disruption caused by the pandemic, this is a time to support students and help them achieve their goals, so that they can be successful. The landscape of higher education has been changing since COVID-19, because universities had to either shut down or pause their various programming. Almost all institutions had to pivot to online learning, and students faced many challenges and obstacles throughout the pandemic. Because of these changes and shifts in online learning, it was even harder for students to engage with their peers, the community on campus, and the faculty. Students in higher education are being encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities, network with professionals, socialize and make friends, and participate in various activities that align with their goals and future desires to establish themselves as successful in their careers. However, there are still barriers, challenges, and a lack of resources for these students to explore their interests and gain experiences and skills that are needed to thrive and flourish in their personal and professional lives. Through implementation of proper mentoring programs and advertising would help diminishing these gaps and barriers that currently exists.