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Student training promotes mentoring awareness and action.

Student training is a critical but often overlooked aspect of the mentoring process. Composite mentoring, involving the strategic selection of a diverse set of mentors, is proposed to guide students to take a more active role in their own mentoring experiences. A mentoring program with composite mentoring as a guiding framework was designed and implemented for college women pursuing science careers. The effectiveness of the program is illustrated, and students reported enhanced mentoring and career-related experiences. Implications for advising, career counseling, and mentoring program design are discussed.


It would help if the mentor was the type of person who you wanted to become. The university does have a lot of mentoring programs where they pair people up. But I wouldn't identify very well with a 50-year-old single woman who's never been married. I need to find somebody who is in their mid-3 Os, had a family, took time off to be with her family, went back, and explain all that.

Nicole, former chemistry student

I don't have just one mentor. My mother is a woman and has a family and a job. But, I don't want to be a Spanish teacher. On the other hand, my boss is a doctor. I want to be a doctor. But, there arc very many ways in which he's different from me. I think you really have to select the ways in which you say--due is what I want to be.

Selina, current premedical student

A mentor is traditionally defined as an older, more experienced person who acts as a guide, advocate, and teacher to a younger, less experienced person (Casey & Shore, 2000). Mentors can provide career, academic, psychosocial, and role modeling functions both within and outside of a school setting (Donaldson, Ensher, & Grant-Vallone, 2000). There are many benefits that students receive from mentoring during the college years and beyond. Mentoring can positively influence the career choices students make (Simpson, 1996), their persistence in pursuing their educational goals (Gloria, Robinson Kurpius, Hamilton, & Willson, 1999), and their success in higher education (Blake-Beard, 1999).

When considering the personal and career development of women, mentoring relationships are regarded as critical, yet highly complex (Blake-Beard, 1999; Hubbard & Robinson, 1998; Sosik & Godshalk, 2000). Women may try to seek mentors who can shed light on combining their personal and professional lives (Gilbert & Rossman, 1992), an issue that often discourages college women from persisting in fields that are non-traditional ones for women, such as science (e.g., Seymour & Hewitt, 1997). However, they may not experience mentoring that adequately addresses their concerns (Frestedt, 1995). Also, women may perceive (Ragins & Cotton, 1991) and experience greater barriers to establishing mentoring relationships than do men (Noe) 1988).

Because role modeling is considered an important component of the mentoring process (Donaldson et al., 2000), it is natural that college students might search, albeit unsuccessfully, for one mentor who resembles the person they want to become. How can career development counselors and faculty advisers help students, especially women and other students who are likely to encounter barriers to mentoring, to identify and to access the mentoring experience that is available to them? In this article, I suggest that student training is a critical but often overlooked aspect of the mentoring process. Whether in the context of a formal program or an informal advisory relationship, students can learn to take a more active role in their mentoring experience, creatively meeting their desire to find mentors who match their hoped-for future selves. These ideas are reflected in the description and evaluation of the current mentoring program I designed and implemented, and they have implications for college-level advising, c areer counseling, and design of future mentoring programs.

Conceptual Framework and Intervention Design

Self-Concept and Career Development

Possible selves is a psychological theory that offers a way of understanding how a multifaceted self-concept can guide career behavior and motivation. According to Markus and Nurius (1986), possible selves are images of what people hope to become, expect to become, and fear becoming. These images motivate behavior as people work to pursue the selves they hope to become and attempt to avoid the selves they fear becoming. Oyserman, Gant, and Ager (1995) suggested that certain possible selves are perceived by young people to be more plausible than others. The models that are available in their social environment imply which selves are really possible. In this way, self-concept is contextualized, and possible selves are readily influenced by relationships in one's social environment (Blustein, 1994). Given this framework, it logically follows that mentoring programs have been recommended as a way to foster students' persistence to achieve desired career choices (e.g., Bird & Didion, 1992; Muller, 2000), because m entors can validate career-related possible selves both through feedback and their own example.

Using a possible selves perspective in the career counseling process can be productive because counselors can help participants to imagine possible alternative occupations (Hill & Spokane, 1995). Specifically, visualization techniques can assist the students' transition toward realizing possible selves; students envision themselves in future scenarios, and mentors help through discussion and feedback (Fletcher, 2000). Imagining positive future images and exploring careers with the aid of mentors have been combined successfully in programs designed for girls and women (Bartholomew, 1995; Rea-Poteat & Martin; 1991).

Using Composite Mentors to Guide Career Development

Because possible selves are multifaceted in nature, the type of mentoring designed to support those possible selves can also be envisioned as multifaceted. Because a single analogy cannot adequately explain complex functionality, Spiro's theory of cognitive flexibility (Spiro, Feltovich, Coulson, & Anderson, 1989; Spiro, Feltovich, Jacobson, & Coulson, 1992) was initially used as a basis to support the benefits of using multiple analogies (i.e., a composite analogy set) to teach students about complex phenomena. As an extension of the cognitive flexibility theory, the advantages of multiple role models have been promoted; for example, preservice teachers require exposure to multiple models so they do not rely on one exemplar for how to teach (Hughes, Packard, & Pearson, 2000; Shulman, 1992). Composite mentoring can be thought of as the strategic selection of a diverse set of mentors, each mentor offering one aspect of the desired mentoring experience. In other words, rather than finding one mentor who can be emulated completely (Ibarra, 1999), female students can use their possible selves to guide the selection of a strategic set of mentors that can support their aspirations. Composite mentoring builds on the ideas that White men can be effective mentors to women from diverse ethnic backgrounds (Atkinson, Neville, & Casas, 1991; Sosik & Godshalk, 2000) and that networking with multiple mentors is more advantageous than relying on one mentor (Bird & Didion, 1992; Burlew, 1991; Nolinske, 1995).

Students have an important role in this process of selecting and gathering the group of people who represent their composite mentor. Smoot (1996) found that women who saw themselves as "constructivists" of knowledge were more likely to make use of informal mentoring opportunities and gain access to multiple mentors than were students who did not see themselves as such actors. Similarly, Turban and Dougherty (1994) found that protege initiation (i.e., the individual seeking mentoring initiates the relationship) led to mentoring experiences for both men and women. Furthermore, students can be seen as co-learners in the mentoring process, working together with mentors, instead of acting as passive recipients (Runions & Smyth, 1985). For example, students could become familiar with a mentor's work schedule and find ways to adjust their own schedule in order to maximize possible contact hours with their mentor. In addition, students could come better prepared for meetings with mentors by brainstorming on their own before seeking feedback from mentors. Students should be encouraged to reflect on and determine their own goals (Murphy & Ensher, 2001), seeking mentors who can assist them rather than completely take over the process for them. These kinds of student behaviors may not come naturally; mentors and proteges alike need guidance to establish mentoring expectations (Burlew, 1991; Gaskill, 1993; Schwiebert, Deck, Bradshaw, Scott, & Harper, 1999).

Description of Current Mentoring Intervention


The program I developed was a mentoring workshop series for 30 women (two groups, each with 15 female college students), who met for six dinnertime sessions during a 12-week period. The college students, who were primarily in their 3rd year, were drawn from a large pool of students who had expressed interest in attending the workshop series because of their heightened concerns about choosing a career in the sciences (e.g., combining family/career), their difficulty with identifying mentors in their environments, and concerns that lcd them to consider switching out of science. The group was diverse: 9 (30%) students were ethnic minorities (2 Hispanic American, 5 African American, and 2 Asian American students participated) and 11 students (36.7%) were the first generation to attend college.

Session Details

In the first meeting, students completed presurveys, which included reflections on what mentoring meant to them, an inventory of current mentoring experiences, and a narrative description of future career plans and of their future career concerns. Surveys were used to assess the program's effectiveness and also to stimulate the students to think about mentoring and career concerns. Next, I (the program coordinator) presented the students with a hypothetical scenario that depicted for them several imperfect mentors (e.g., someone who was in their desired career but who lived far away, a woman effectively balancing personal and professional lives but who worked in a different nontraditional career, a male professor in their department offering research experience but who had a difficult personality, and a female graduate student in the same field who could share academic insights but who could not fill other advocacy or supervisory roles). The students discussed their reservations about choosing any of these me ntors and how this scenario might or might not have accurately portrayed the issues they faced in their own current situations.

Next, the students were presented with information about composite mentoring and strategies to achieve it, including a description of the many forms and structures that mentoring could take, the advantage of having multiple mentors who could be models of different aspects of professional experience, and the active role students could take in their own mentoring process. Specific examples such as attending office hours to get to know their professors and seeking research experience from supervisors were provided, and possible setbacks (e.g., rejection) were discussed. At this point, the students expressed some initial disappointment, because they had hoped the program would supply them with an ideal mentor, and the thought of seeking mentoring on their own was daunting. The homework assignment for the first session entailed brainstorming to formulate questions for potential mentors. In the following session, they would have the opportunity to "try out" these questions with the female graduate students who woul d be attending the workshop.

In the second session, students met 8 female graduate students in the sciences who attended the same university or another nearby university. First, the guests introduced themselves by stating their field of study and providing relevant personal information, including struggles they had faced in college and personal hobbies or relationships. Then, the students and guests were divided into smaller focus groups, combining 2 to 3 guests with 4 to 6 students; these groups rotated and were rearranged halfway through the session. On the basis of the presurveys, the students' field of interest and primary concerns were determined; students were assigned to a focus group with guests who were in a similar field for the first half of the session and with guests who could address their concerns for the second half of the session. Finally, the session ended with an open mixer with refreshments, where the students were encouraged to ask the guests their questions. Many of the students and guests exchanged contact informat ion at the conclusion of the session. The homework assignment for the second session was to complete a work sheet that listed in grid format the persons each student had encountered (either in the focus groups or outside of the workshop) whom they might like to contact and the topic of discussion with that person. Students were expected to initiate contact with these individuals during the next week.

During the third session, the students were divided into pairs or trios based on similar fields of interest. The students were instructed to review their list of career concerns and share them with their partner(s). Then, the students were asked to brainstorm about what they knew regarding alternative careers within their field of interest or to consider if they actually knew anyone in their career of interest who could shed light on their concerns. In the second half of the session, the students worked at computer stations and used the Internet to search for information on alternative careers and to seek professionals who might be able to shed light on their concerns (e.g., through a national professional organization directory). The homework assignment after the third session entailed following up on the leads that students had developed during this working session and brainstorming about questions that they had for the professional women who were coming to the next session.

The fourth session mirrored the second session, with the students and professional women again both being divided into focus groups on the basis of the students' field of interest and primary concerns; the groups rotated and were reconfigured halfway through the session. It is important to note that limiting the graduate students and professionals invited to the focus groups to women was done to encourage sharing among peers and to provide the opportunity for female students to learn from the experiences of women in a more advanced position; it was not because the students were encouraged to choose only female mentors. In fact, the graduate school and professional women all emphasized their own experiences with mentors who were men and people with different lifestyle choices. The professional women all worked in the sciences, but they represented a diversity of experiences in both their personal and professional lives (e.g., part-time work, working from home).

In the fifth session, students completed postsurveys, which included reflections on what mentoring meant to them, an updated inventory of mentoring experiences, their future career plans, and their concerns about their future career plans. Next, they wrote a narrative description of how they envisioned themselves 10 years in the future. Then, students used this narrative to complete a work sheet in which they chose six aspects of their desired future self and then described the barriers they perceived or concerns they had when they envisioned fulfilling each of these aspects. Finally, the students noted which individuals could provide, or were currently providing, mentoring for each of those desired aspects and concerns associated with each. This work sheet formed a plan of action for students by aligning the aspects of their desired future lives with their ideas for seeking mentoring from various individuals.

In the sixth session, students shared with each other their successes and struggles from the semester-long mentoring workshop series and their plans of action. The students were encouraged to ask their peers and the program coordinator for feedback on their plans and any advice regarding additional resources to assist them that they may have overlooked.

Effectiveness of the Mentoring Intervention

This section focuses on highlighting the effectiveness of the intervention by reporting the qualitative differences in the students' mentoring awareness and actions when measured at the presurvey and then at the postsurvey.

Presurvey Results

Students completed a section of the presurvey asking them to describe what the term mentoring brought to mind. Their responses usually began with "A mentor is someone who..." and the student would go on to describe the role of the mentor or the criteria she used to select a mentor. In fact, 28 of the 30 students defined mentoring as explicitly involving "someone," "one" mentor, or meaning a "one-on-one" relationship. For example, Jane wrote this description:

A mentor is someone [italics added] who explains the opportunities available to you (thc best that they know), helps connect you to other resources, and answers suggestions to keep you on the right track, in terms of career goals and requirements to achieve them.

In contrast, only 2 students wrote the words people or many people to describe mentoring. This suggested that initially the word mentoring brought to mind the mentor, specifically, a vision of one, single mentor.

The students' responses lacked a description of how the student had a role in the relationship aside from benefiting from the mentor's guidance. The majority of the students described what the mentor should do or provide to the student in terms of advice, guidance, or encouragement, with the exception of 2 students who suggested that the mentor benefits from the exchange with the student. For example, Keshia wrote the following:

Mentoring brings to mind someone who has experienced situations relating to things I would like to do and guiding/providing me with insight as to how I can be successful towards my achievements.

Similarly, Brianna wrote that she was looking for a

one-on-one relationship with someone (preferably a woman) in my field that could help me see what it's "really like" doing this job.

Annie used this description:

I am looking for someone to provide insight to me. I seriously have tried to get to know my advisors and professors here but it seems like they don't want to make an effort as well. I haven't really talked to anyone in my medical field ... I want to find a mentor for myself. Someone I can look up to, and try to be like. To be able to say, "Gee, I really want to be like him/her when I'm all done with my schooling," that would be wonderful!

Thus, students' ideas about mentoring were strongly defined by their image of the mentor they were seeking. When asked what the term mentoring brought to mind, students envisioned a long-term relationship, typically with one woman in science, balancing career and family, who would guide them into the field. Responses included few mentions of multiple mentors or of the student's role.

Postsurvey Results

In their postsurveys, students were more likely to describe mentoring as involving multiple relationships: 27 of the 30 students described mentoring as involving "people," "multiple relationships," or other plural "mentors." For example, Lori explained it this way:

I don't see mentoring as a one-one relationship anymore. I really do think, now, that you can draw off of many sources for different things. My friend and former boss would be someone I turn to for advice about the business world and politics, but she couldn't give me advice about getting into med school. I have learned now that you can't expect to have a one-stop shopping mentor. It isn't humanly possible.

Zarah corroborated this idea with this statement:

Now I don't think mentoring involves two people only. I think mentoring involves a lot of people that can help you in different areas. Each mentor can help you in one area.

In addition to seeing mentoring as involving many people, students described the strategic integration of mentors who could provide important insights, including men, women who were not in the students' fields, and peers. For example, Corie wrote this:

Through this program, I pulled little bits of info from different mentors to get the full picture of what I was looking for. It changed my outlook by not pursuing someone who was doing "exactly" what I want, but got me to take what other people have done and apply it to my own goals. For example, J. is a grad student in computer science and M. is a consultant in engineering. I could combine these two and apply it to my own goals.

Thus, even when Corie did not find a mentor who represented exactly who she wanted to become, she felt it was possible to create a new alternative image.

Furthermore, 18 of the 30 students specifically mentioned their own active role in mentoring at the end of the semester. For example, Jill said,

I think it is much more important than before and I need to make more of an effort to establish more mentoring relationships.

This proactive stance was evidenced by the way in which students had realistically revised their expectations of mentors and their willingness to actively draw on the mentoring resources they had available.

Furthermore, 23 of the 30 students reported that they had more extensive mentoring experiences after the intervention, meaning that they had more mentoring relationships or that they had begun to be aware of mentoring possibilities that they had not considered before (e.g., from peers, advisers). For example, Carol wrote this in her postsurvey:

My experiences of mentoring have changed in that I have been mentored by both peers and professionals, young and old, and in and outside of my field. Previously, my mentoring was solely within my field by professionals.

Whereas Carol described the mentoring she experienced within the program structure, Robyn highlighted her increased experiences of mentoring in settings outside of the program:

My mentoring experiences have completely changed. I am asking everyone questions now, and I have so many mentors now, without even calling them my mentors . . . I don't think I had any mentors in the beginning of the semester, and now I feel like I have tons! I think I mentioned my mom at the beginning of the semester, but now I have TAs, graduate students, professors, academic advisors, etc., etc.!

These examples illustrate how students gained new experiences of mentoring now that they were able to identify viable mentors in their environments. The other 7 students reported that their experiences of mentoring had not changed, but 4 of these students mentioned plans to seek out mentoring. They explained that although their access to mentoring and motivation to seek mentoring had increased, time constraints and procrastination or anxiety kept them from seeking the opportunities and people they desired. For example, Estrella explained,

It's been harder for me to find a mentor since I came to the university. But I think it's because I'm looking for a mentor, so I'm ruling out whoever doesn't seem like they could help me, or someone who doesn't have what I'm looking for.

Others, like Georgia, already had a mentor in the field and did not think that their experiences had changed. Through her interactions in the sessions, it seemed that Georgia was still looking for an additional person, a woman, who would help her to think about balancing career and family.

Sustained Effects 16 Weeks After the Mentoring Workshop

Of the 30 students who participated in the workshop, 20 provided me with an update of their activities. The sustained effects of training for students seeking mentors were observed 4 months later, as students reported increased mentoring experiences, the continued use of composite mentoring strategies, and actions that reflected renewed commitment to the science field. Specifically, 10 students had obtained new internships or work-related positions (e.g., research position, clinical assistance, zoo internship), none of which were easy to come by. For example, Abha was rejected for many of the positions she applied for, but eventually her persistence paid off, and she landed an internship in the computer industry. She reported the following:

The composite mentor idea will never leave my mind, and I have thought about it quite a few times this semester. I have decided to look for mentors wherever I can find them. This way, different people can give me different pieces of information, all of which I need, but which probably could not come from one source alone.

Three students had shadowed professionals in their desired field (one student concurrently held a work-related position). For example, Jane had shadowed doctors at the hospital and formed a new plan to volunteer at the Red Gross. She reported,

I did think about the composite mentor thing this semester. . . I'm always on the lookout for positive role models.

In addition, 2 students sought affiliations with national professional organizations (one student concurrently held a work-related position), and 1 student joined a cultural organization on campus where they met senior mentors in their field. Two students kept in close touch with the mentors they met through this program. One student, Jeri, reported she sought support from peers in her courses, and another student made efforts to get to know her professors during office hours. She wrote,

I guess I haven't really thought much about finding a mentor, however I do go and visit my professors more often, ask questions in class, and other things that I never used to do on a regular basis. Ever since all of those people came to visit (in the focus groups), it is easier to see people in higher positions as real people and makes them more approachable to me. It also helps to see that ordinary people got to where they are in life, so it is entirely possible to become whatever I want to become.

Finally, 2 students were waiting to begin working in full-time positions they had secured, and 2 were still waiting to hear about positions they had applied for. These updates provided concrete examples of how incorporating training for students searching for mentors into a mentoring program could produce lasting effects regarding the students' approach to the mentoring process in the future.

Summary and Conclusion

Students expanded their ideas about mentoring to include broader ideas regarding both who could be considered as a mentor and their own proactive role in mentoring. They also increased their motivation to seek new mentoring and career-related experiences; at the very minimum, students followed up with women whom they had met during the program in focus groups and attended faculty office hours more regularly. Students need considerable support, guidance, and time to progress in developing their own role in mentoring. Composite mentors may be configured in different ways, and students can be counseled as to how to strategically select a composite set that will fit their future aspirations. The message is clear: Students do not automatically know how to take an effective, active role in their own mentoring, but with some guidance, they may be more likely to identify and make use of the mentoring available to them. Thus, training for students seeking a mentor should be considered an important component of any men toring program.


Variations of these techniques might include mentoring "samplers" whereby students have the opportunity to participate in a rotation among several shorter internships with many different professionals (Nolinske, 1995) and focus groups in which students can share their struggles and successes in mentoring with the social support from their peers (Allen, 1999). To complement formal programs, training for students seeking mentoring experiences can be provided through informal conversations with advisers or in career counseling sessions with clients. Probing students about their role in the mentoring process or exploring the possibility of multiple mentors can be fundamental aspects of conversations about career development. Students can be encouraged to use their possible selves to guide thc mentoring process and to be creative about how they meet their mentoring needs.

Finally, it is important to emphasize that focusing on training for students seeking mentoring is only one part of a larger effort to support college students. It is clear that no matter how much responsibility students take to promote their own participation in mentoring, their efforts can be thwarted. More mentors who are willing to consider the innovative notion of a composite mentor and who are able to direct students to additional mentors possessing different kinds of experience are needed. With increased training for both mentors and students seeking mentors, potential participants in mentoring can become more effective in mentoring relationships.

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Becky Wai-Ling Packard, Department of Psychology and Education, Mount Holyoke College. Correspondence concerning this article should he addressed to Becky Wai-Ling Packard, Department of Psychology and Education, Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA 01075 (e-mail:
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Author:Packard, Becky Wai-Ling
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Date:Jun 1, 2003
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