Letter from the Guest Editor, PURM 6.1

Mentoring of undergraduate research and scholarly endeavors is a cornerstone of higher education and one type of high impact practice that is transformative in students’ college experience. Typically, mentoring of undergraduate research involves a mentor-protégé model, however there are multiple other structures undergraduate students are involved in as part of their research experience. Understanding those structures and the benefits and challenges within them and across them can be beneficial to the academy as a whole. One challenge many institutions face is how to scale mentoring while maintaining the characteristics and components of the mentored experience that make it a positive high impact practice. Thus, exploring a range of models can be valuable for both mentors and institutions as the landscape of higher education is moving toward an expectation of increased student access to these experiences. This special issue aims to highlight various models of mentored undergraduate research to contribute to the conversation in the undergraduate community around a range of ways to mentor students’ scholarly endeavors. Authors cover:

  • unique classroom examples;
  • generational and/or scaffolded mutual mentoring models and networks;
  • co-mentoring models;
  • best practices, challenges, and implementation strategies of each particular model.

We encourage readers to tune into the qualities and characteristics of mentoring that run across the range of models, and to identify creative options that may serve to expand opportunities for student access while simultaneously developing the teacher-scholar agenda of faculty across ages and stages.

Eight papers are included in this issue highlighting creative models of mentoring; often pushing disciplinary and institutional boundaries and barriers. The first contribution (Ticknor) grounds readers by summarizing key research on mentoring with an intentional infusion of an educational psychology lens. Practical takeaways include key questions for mentors to address in undergraduate research experiences which can be applied to a variety of models and contexts. The next paper begins with a comprehensive review of multi-mentoring structures and then emphasizes on the concept of co-mentoring (Nicholson, Pollock, Ketcham, Fitz Gibbon, Bradley and Bata). This multi-institutional team provides strategies and an implementation model for institutions to consider around co-mentoring. The ever changing landscape of higher education is becoming more interdisciplinary and collaborative, thirsty for creative mentoring models. This is followed by a more in-depth conversational perspective of co-mentoring from a single institution (Ketcham, Hall and Miller). These authors discuss their experience of characterizing this model so as to be recognized and supported by programs and the infrastructure of their institution. They expand this experience to highlight more broadly the benefits, challenges, and best practices for institutions and faculty to adopt while also sharing student perspectives and the meaningful outcomes they express gaining as participants in this model.

The next set of papers include mentoring models that address a specific need in the context of training graduate students and in turn lead to meaningful mentoring experiences across levels of the inquiry team. One team (Carroll, Richards and Lisic) describe a serendipitous model created in their discipline that started as a traditional laboratory model of mentoring transformed into a curricular model creating a dynamic mentoring process across time and contexts. They discuss the evolution of designing a curricular model of mentoring research into a research methods class. This includes a structured assessment taking the best practices of a traditional model and infusing into a curricular structure. In a similar disciplinary model, the next contribution (Mabrouk) presents a new model of graduate mentor training in support of undergraduate research at a Research Intensive University. Satisfaction and efficacy findings are discussed for this mutual mentor-protégé model of mentoring which is powerful in this context. In a vastly different context, a scaffolded mentor-protégé model was used in an online format (Kalel, Grijalva, and Brown) to provide opportunities for mentor-protégé teams to develop across branch campuses of a university. They discuss the utility of this creative online model to potentially increase access to mentored undergraduate research experiences in underrepresented populations.

Finally two papers push the mentoring model context into a peer structure where students learn expertise and skills that enable them to serve as mentors of scholarly inquiry for peers with undeveloped expertise in the topic and/or field. The first paper using this model (Cundra, Benzal, Schwabeck) describes a one-room schoolhouse summer research kick-off experience which included an intense 3-week peer-mentoring model of undergraduate research. This structure matched talented high school students with undergraduate students to create teams to develop a research question and a feasible plan to be carried out beyond the summer course experience. This was a unique model that was used to spearhead mentored lines of inquiry, utilizing expertise intensely for a short period of time and then allowing the peer mentored teams to carry on work beyond. The final paper (Lewis and Jacobs) pushes the undergraduate research model to the limits of what most might consider mentored scholarly inquiry, particularly because the method of inquiry is not a traditional research method: digital storytelling. The authors highlight how the experience of learning digital storytelling through multiple courses developed into an opportunity to use these skills of inquiry in a curricular context. Specifically, one author, after being the mentee, moved to the mentor role for students engaged in how to effectively use the digital storytelling model in a safe space of a classroom experience.

What stands out to us, the editors, is the mentoring that continued to occur in the writing process and articulation of these varied mentored stories that are included in this special issue: from multidisciplinary peer teams, to institutional colleague teams and scaffolded mentor networks, to peer mentor teams, to students that began as the mentee and developed into the mentor. The creativity of our colleagues is remarkable: the passion for intellectual curiosity, the care in mentoring scholars through various stages given constraints and contexts that could be an excuse to shut down access. The value these models and examples have added to individual scholars and students, as well as lines of inquiry and institutional boundaries, gives us pause. We are confident that there are not only many models of mentoring undergraduate research, but these models have significant impact no matter the scale, the disciplinary lines, or the context. It is about the relationships and the care taken in the art and science of teaching, of mentoring, of developing young scholars. We can be sure that the scholarly leaders in higher education continue to share their passion for intellectual inquiry and curiosity and will continue to adapt, adopt and creativity find ways to mentor undergraduate research experiences.

Caroline Ketcham, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of Exercise Science, Elon University
Karl Sienerth, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of Chemistry, Elon University
Cynthia Fair, Dr.PH., Professor and Chair of Public Health Studies, Elon University

A special thank you to our reviewers who each gave thoughtful and constructive feedback which made each of these contributions stronger and more accessible to the larger audience. We value your time and expertise – so Thank You!

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