Mentoring Fellows Program

As part of a 5-year initiative to improve mentoring at Purdue, the Graduate School has initiated the Mentoring Fellows Program. This program engages faculty and graduate students who are passionate about mentoring, have some unique interest or experience with mentoring programs, or are engaged in research about the mentoring relationship in higher education. This program seeks to recognize strengths and to identify possible opportunities for improvement in mentoring relationships within each college. Current fellows are working to assess/describe the mentoring culture within their college and shape programming over the next year. Fellows receive a small stipend for their work on this initiative.

Reports from Mentoring Fellows

Through surveys and focus groups with faculty and graduate students the team recommends creating an office or Center for Mentoring Excellence (CME) in the College of Liberal Arts. An abbreviated list of resources provided by this office would include:

  • Offer a variety of resources for interacting effectively, redirecting mentoring relationships, and overall excellence in mentoring such as:
  • Conversational scripts for how to communicate with mentors about a variety of topics such as how to ask for help, realign expectations, discuss personal hardships affecting students’ work, adjusting working styles, etc. In person staff can role play these scenarios with students
  • Checklist of mentor behaviors provided with examples of short (3-5 sentences) case studies that exemplify the behaviors
  • Individual Development Plans (IDPs) examples to help students facilitate conversations with faculty mentors
  • Communication styles activities to help students and mentors identify their communication styles and help accommodate to each other and improve communication
  • Web-based and in-person training modules of best practices for faculty mentoring of graduate students; trainings especially tailored for mentoring BIPOC and international students; trainings on providing instrumental and psychosocial support
  • Mentor/mentee bill of rights, that sets basic expectations for both faculty and students in CLA about what constitutes a productive mentoring relationship, and outlines what formal and informal steps both parties might take to resolve mentoring issues
  • Establishing a formal system of peer mentoring for both graduate student mentees and faculty mentors. This could take a number of forms. It might take the form of drop-in hours with experienced mentors. It might take the form of a “mentoring ombudsperson.”

The Pharmacy project disseminated a survey which examined the mentor/mentee relationship and available resources related to mentoring. While a majority of participants were satisfied with their current mentor relationship, they did not believe that they had the resources necessary to support mentoring within the college. The team is committed to providing these additional resources at the departmental and college level.

Conclusions from this project recommend seminars that focus on specific mentoring behaviors to improve relationships across the college.

Through a series of surveys, focus groups and working meeting for ideating solutions the team arrived at the following main recommendations:

  • Policy changes to allow for more time for mentoring activities (e.g., course release when faculty have 10+ advisees, or a number of 699s/graduates/etc) and equitable workloads.
  • Clear expectations for an advisor/advisee relationship.
  • Ongoing series of interactive training for faculty, on topics such as culturally responsive mentoring, active listening, how to ask students for feedback, how to balance professional/emotional support, etc.
  • Identification, adaptation, and/or creation of job aids and “quick access” online resources.
  • Robust mechanism for students to provide feedback on advisers/committee members.
  • Events to allow students and faculty to interact in both formal and informal ways, including interactive brainstorming sessions, “speed dating,” etc.

This team began with a review of all graduate manuals in the college. They found that information and resources for graduate mentoring were sparse and not readily accessible. Graduate student interviews indicated that advisors in the college were very knowledgeable about their content areas however, lack of cultural awareness and lack of availability were identified as areas of improvement. Finally, the team interviewed department heads and conducted meetings with the graduate directors. From our review of graduate manuals and these interviews, we concluded that possible goals for our HHS graduate mentoring initiative could be to create a college-level mentoring webpage for HHS students and faculty and address the need for additional resources for graduate students, i.e., recommend an HHS-level ombuds program. First, an HHS mentoring page would link to the Graduate School mentoring webpage, but also would provide HHS-specific opportunities and resources. Second, an HHS-level ombuds program would provide a “local” resource to assist HHS students who are experiencing difficulties and challenges in their graduate training programs.

Three major initiatives were pursued in this project: Individual Development Plans, Graduate Mentorship Seminar Series, Faculty Surveys. Each is described below.

An Individual Development Plan (IDP) is an organized document that allows students to optimize the success of their graduate education. Students are more likely to achieve their goals by writing them down in a detailed, organized manner, and this format is provided by the IDP. The fellows recognized that while some engineering departments already provided comprehensive plans for their students, eight of the eleven did not. Therefore, a document was designed during the spring semester and published in August 2022. The document includes five steps: 1) completing the myIDP career planning exercise, 2) filling out a skills self-assessment, 3) completing the IDP with respect to one’s short- and long-term goals, 4) meeting with one’s research advisor, and 5) revisiting the IDP at least once per year.

To supplement the development of the Individual Development Plan (IDP), , we proposed developing and hosting a series of seminar like events for graduate students and faculty members in the College of Engineering where topics on mentoring could be discussed with the goal to better equip both mentors and mentees with knowledge and resources that could either improve mentoring between graduate students and faculty advisors on campus or prevent mentoring relationship issues from developing. We selected seminars as our event format to welcome different College of Engineering departments to include our mentorship seminars as part of their own seminar series and imply that that all seminars would serve as supplementary educational events on mentorship rather than be a course with assignments for example. Seminars included:

  1. Individual Development Plan
  2. Navigating Toxic Environments
  3. Building Healthy Mentorship Relationships
  4. Mentoring, Managing and Diversifying Graduate Student Research Groups

Faculty Survey Results
The following are our recommendations and conclusions based on the findings of our faculty mentoring survey:
  1. Faculty have a generally positive outlook on mentoring but view the following as obstacles
    1. Lack of time due to course loads and class sizes
    2. Lack of support staff
    3. Lack of readily available guidance on best practices
    4. A culture within the school that prioritizes securing funding and publications above learning and professional development.
  2. A significant number of faculty members within the COE are interested in the use of IDPs, so a sustained effort to promote the existence and use of the mentoring fellows IDP template (either as-is or modified to suit their needs), would be well-received by many.
  3. If good mentorship were to be tangibly recognized by the COE, discretionary funding would be widely seen as the most attractive incentive.
  4. Varying suggestions of best practices from within different COE schools were cited. These best practices should be collected from each of the schools and shared between them all.

Surveys were disseminated to faculty and students across the college. One underlying issue seems to be that students and faculty may not have a good understanding or expectation of what a healthy and productive mentor-mentee relationship should look like. Expectations don’t seem to line up well from either side of the relationship. It seems that more extensive training, especially for the faculty, might be warranted. Faculty of course must complete the Grad Faculty Mentoring Workshop in order to serve on graduate committees, but this seems to be the final step of their training, when it could just be a first step. The Future Mentors Program, targeted to graduate students, is an example of providing the type of skills we hope more of our faculty could have. Perhaps further training / workshops / coaching could be developed to help our faculty improve in this area – the Graduate School’s Mentoring website is a good start to this. The resources and workshops provided by this initiative are valuable, but in order to make a real difference they need to be more widely advertised, or perhaps enforced.

Survey findings suggest that though faculty mentors and graduate student mentees quantitatively rank mentoring skills on par with a large national sample, there are opportunities for growth that emerge.

First, faculty and graduate students both rank the skill of “considering the biases and prejudices within the relationship” the lowest on the mentoring competency survey. PVM has already begun to address this skill with the Diversity Café programs, but perhaps future sessions can directly focus on bias and prejudices within mentoring relationships.

Second, the words used to describe the mentoring culture at PVM vary to include very positive words and words that indicate that growth is necessary. Additionally, qualitative responses suggest that experiences with mentoring vary and may be quite polarized dependent upon the mentor themselves.

Third, both faculty and graduate students express a need for additional resources on mentoring. These resources may be shared in a variety of ways, from workshops, reading materials or through the development of an evidence-based mentoring curriculum. A limitation of this preliminary study was the lack of insight on the graduate students’ skills with being a mentee. Future studies need to consider evaluating graduate student skills in the mentoring context as well. A mentoring curriculum would address both the skillset of the faculty and of the graduate students within the mentoring relationship.

Faculty Mentoring Fellows

Name and Email College/School
Ephrem Abebe, PhD Pharmacy
David Atkinson, PhD Liberal Arts
Chris Brinton, PhD Engineering
Marisa Exter, PhD Education
Melissa Franks, PhD Health and Human Sciences
Timothy Keaton, PhD Science
Anne Lucietto, PhD Polytechnic
Kristine Marceau, PhD Health and Human Sciences
Powell Nush, PhD Liberal Arts
Andrea Pires dos Santos, PhD Veterinary Medicine
Joseph Rispoli, PhD Engineering

Graduate Student Fellows 

Name and Email College/School
Zeynep Akdemir Education
Enoch Amarh Pharmacy
Jianfen Chen Liberal Arts
Emily Garcia Engineering
Jennifer Garcia Science
Rachel Gehr Engineering
Kanishka Misra Polytechnic
Leanne Nieforth Veterinary
Elisabeth Noland Health and Human Sciences
Krista Robbins Education
Garrett Slater Agriculture
Suzanne Swaine Engineering
Kelsey Tobin Agriculture
Alejandra Trinidad Liberal Arts