A lot of colleges are initiating mentor programs at the undergraduate and graduate level because they can benefit students in a number of ways. They can help them navigate a new environment, assist with school work, help students find people of a similar culture, or prepare them for their future career. These programs take on all shapes at the university level. Many students come to college with no true idea of what they want to do with their life. If they are paired with a professional or peer mentor that has more experience, they can leave college with direction and maybe even lab or work experience to get them started on their career. If they moved here from another country, maybe a peer mentor can help them find people from the same culture and help them adjust to the differences in everyday life.
Despite mentoring programs having a number of benefits, they require a lot of work, money, and time. If they aren’t formatted properly, mentors and mentees can feel like they have to go to something that they don’t really want to go to. If the organizer doesn’t put any time or money into the program, the relationship falls apart and no one benefits. A lot of the time, mentoring works best when the relationship forms naturally. Some people don’t necessarily want a mentor or don’t feel like they need one and so they feel uncomfortable being assigned one.
From my experience with mentoring programs, they have never ended well but have always had good intentions. For example, this semester I participated in the Virginia Tech Early Engineering Mentoring program as a mentor. The program is put on by the College of Engineering graduate school and pairs new graduate students with existing graduate students. I volunteered as a way of giving back to the University that I felt has been great for me and my career. In my undergrad, I participated in a mentor program for incoming international students. The program paired us up with students through email and expected the relationship to take off from there. Naturally, I met with my mentee once and we never met again. The program at VT was much better but resulted in the relationship being forced.
There are of course other types of mentoring that can happen in universities. If a student works under a professor for research, the professor can become a professional mentor for that student. These types of relationships are much better because the student is actively seeking out a mentor with the intention of gaining experience and knowledge allowing a more organic relationship to transpire.
My thoughts from this post come from an article posted on The Chronicle of Higher Education: https://www.chronicle.com/article/For-Mentorships-to-Work/245114