Opinion Leadership

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11th April 2024
Knowledge Sharing Learning & Teaching

The Mentor and the Mentee: how a student can benefit uniquely from a mentor

14th February 2024

Authors

Lucy Pittaway

Senior Lecturer in Events Management, Faculty of Business and Law, Manchester Metropolitan University

There is an expectation from students in higher education, that by the time they complete their degree, a magic employability wand will have been waved over them and three wishes will have been granted. 1) They will know what career they wish to pursue. 2) They will have some experience in said career and therefore know what to expect. 3) They will get an interview easily for their dream career. For some lucky few, this may well be the situation. However, for the majority of students, knowing what job they want to pursue ‘for the rest of your life’ is exceptionally daunting, and even if they do know what they want, getting an interview or being able to prove their readiness can be very stressful.  

Knowing who to turn to for support during these stressful times can also be hard to navigate for students; there is an assumption made by students that family members won’t understand, or they don’t want to worry them, lecturers are too busy, and their mates know exactly what they want from life, so they don’t want to look like the unorganised one!  

In walks the Fairy Godmother stage right: the Mentor.  

Yes, you’re right, they don’t have a magic wand, but what they do have, (and this is gold dust to the student), is no pre-conceived agenda or expectations of the student. They are simply there to assist the mentee achieve their goals. For a student who is fast approaching the completion of their degree and hoping to soon embark onto the first rung of the career ladder, having someone there to help them choose which ladder, hold the ladder, and reassure them that they have the skills not to fall, can be life changing. Without the support of a mentor, there’s a chance students will be unaware of potential opportunities that exist, be too nervous to take a chance or not prepare sufficiently to succeed.  

Over the past three years, I have overseen the mentorship programme at Manchester Metropolitan University Business School specifically designed for our Events Management students at levels 5, 6, and 7. Throughout this period, we have witnessed the positive impact of this initiative on over a hundred students who have benefited immensely from the guidance and support provided by experienced mentors serving as invaluable role models. 

Students apply for a mentor on our scheme by producing a short video of themselves, stating why they feel they’d benefit from a mentor and what particular areas they feel they need support with. The video collection is sent to our cohort of volunteer mentors, who select their top five mentees they’d most like to work with. From this selection the pairs are created and they are introduced to each other via email. The partnership is then over to them to navigate, following training for the mentees and a handbook for the mentors. They are encouraged to meet once every 4-6 weeks over the course of 6 months, during which students will be preparing for their next transition, whether that’s going out on placement or graduating.  

As a student mentee, it’s not just acquiring new knowledge that benefits them, it’s the social learning they gain through their interactions with their mentor which are so valuable to their future professional lives, particularly for our first-generation students. From arranging the meetings, setting objectives, following up on tasks; their motivation to impress their mentor influences their behaviour in ways that isn’t always common for a student.  

Feedback from our students who have completed the mentor programme have found that it has provided them with the confidence to self-reflect and truly analyse what skills they have, what skills they are missing and which professional roles excite them. For many, it has introduced them to roles they didn’t fully understand but would now like to pursue further. Students have reported how much more comfortable they felt talking to someone not connected to their personal life or the university, to soundboard ideas with, resulting in stronger resilience and confidence in their own ability. As a result of their participation in the mentorship programme, students have experienced a notable boost in self-empowerment. This newfound confidence has empowered them to actively pursue graduate positions and seize opportunities they may not have considered attainable before. This heightened self-assurance has, in turn, significantly enhanced their levels of career readiness. 

The positive impact of our mentorship program extends beyond the student mentees' feedback; our mentors have also experienced substantial professional growth through their engagement. Many mentors express that the role has not only given them personal satisfaction in guiding the next generation but has also been an enriching experience. They appreciate the opportunity to listen to their mentees' fresh ideas, which, in turn, prompts them to personally reflect on and evaluate their own beliefs, practices, and values. 

This simple, age-old practice of mentoring between student and industry professional should not be underestimated in terms of the powerful outcomes it can produce. Almost as powerful as three magic wishes.