The success of a mentorship program is not only measured by the program design and implementation, but how well the program serves an institution's student population. In one of our latest roundtable events, we explored the foundation of successful mentorship programs through the lens of diversity and equity.
Presenting his dissertation, entitled The Collegiate Equity Mentorship Matrix, Dr. Norris “EJ” Edney III, Ed.D, Director of the Center for Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement at the University of Mississippi, elaborated on his experience as a Black man at the University of Mississippi and how it led him to search for the fundamental elements that support impactful mentorship programs - particularly on a diverse campus.
Since his first undergraduate year in 2007, Dr. Edney was acutely aware of the low success rate among other African American and Black males in his class:
"I was never at risk of not graduating, but as I looked around my sophomore year there were friends from my freshman year that weren’t there. During my junior and senior year there were less and less. When you only have about 150 African American and Black males come into an institution, you know who they are.”
In search of why African American and Black males, specifically, were at-risk of dropping out, Dr. Edney discovered an outlier in the University of Mississippi graduation rate data. In 2009, African American and Black males performed significantly higher than the national average with a rate of 40.8%.
Looking into this number and the curriculum of that year further, he found the 2009 school year incorporated mentoring as a core foundation for the University of Mississippi’s high-impact programs, including Luckyday, FASTrack and Athletics. This was also the year more African American and Black males were enrolled into those programs.
Rather than comb through the vast expanse of research confirming the existence of social equity deficits and the variety of additional environmental and socioeconomic influences, Dr. Edney wanted to get to the root of how mentoring helped these groups succeed by supplementing the data with qualitative findings from student interviews.
"I wanted to see to what extent can mentoring define this [student success rate]. I also didn't want to do it in a traditional way. I wanted to do it in a way that allowed these young men who were experiencing this to be experts in their own experience. So that set me out on my dissertation journey."
Through his research, Dr. Edney developed four key questions and pillars that ultimately determine the effectiveness of mentorship.
Relevance: Is mentorship relevant to success?
All of Dr. Edney’s study participants acknowledged the importance of mentorship for their education and career.
Nature: What is the nature of the relationship?
There’s no one mentor for everything. Mentors at UM have domains based on a genuine understanding of the mentee’s identity. Mentorships are also reciprocal. One of Dr. Edney’s study participants, Terrell, noted, “in order to be a mentor you have to know how to be a mentee.” This stresses the lifecycle effect mentorship adopts when the proper programming is in place to capture the momentum of these positive interactions.
Worth noting is the on-boarding process of both mentors and mentees within structured mentorship programs. Mentor Collective facilitates relevant mentor-mentee matches to build connections between students/alumni that last long beyond graduation.
Formation: How do mentoring relationships develop for successful African American and Black males in college?
Assigning a mentor isn’t enough. Students vet relationships. Mentor relationships are inherently informal, but can develop in a formal program over time. Students within Dr. Edney’s study remarked they all had a “moment,” “conversation,” or “interaction” with their mentors that allowed them to open up more and see their assigned mentor as an authentic connection.
Mechanism: How does mentorship help African American and Black males at UM?
Mentoring relationships work because they build pathways to self-efficacy through vicarious experiences, mastery experiences, and emotional support.
Dr. Edney concluded his presentation by discussing various prominent studies aimed at understanding the conflicting goals of post-secondary institutions and factors that dictate a student's ability to persist to graduation. He noted the absence of personal narratives within this research and how it inspired him to create the Collegiate Equity Mentoring Matrix - population-specific mentoring experiences, needs, and considerations.
"In biology, the extracellular matrix is what supports the health of a cell. Mentoring is a cell, and if we're going to support healthy mentoring relationships, we have got to make sure the matrix in which that mentoring relationship is meant to form is rich. That is has the nutrients and components that students need to be successful."