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II. Mentoring

The most consistent theme in our conversations with alumni/ae was the importance of mentoring, understood as good advice, close connections with peers and others who understand life at Princeton, and relationships with people at different stages of life whom one knows and can trust.

Mentoring is important for both men and women, but for reasons we have sketched throughout the report, it appears to be more important for women. This generalization holds true especially in preparing women for leadership and scholarly achievement.

Many alumnae told us that a sympathetic mentor—a faculty member, coach, staff member, older student, or alumna—had made a very significant difference in their Princeton years. This topic was also brought up by current students who wished that they had more access to advisers, mentors, or older students who would support and encourage them, help them make choices, and clue them in to the ways of Princeton.

The most consistent theme in our conversations with alumni/ae was the importance of mentoring, understood as good advice, close connections with peers and others who understand life at Princeton, and relationships with people at different stages of life whom one knows and can trust.

These conversations, and the extensive scholarly literature on mentoring, indicate that several forms of mentoring matter for undergraduates. Among them are:

  1. Mentoring for academic achievement, offered by faculty, staff, and graduate students. This involves developing and maintaining one's confidence; balancing breadth and depth in academics; and leveraging resources at Princeton in areas of strength and areas of weakness.
  2. Mentoring for success in social and extracurricular life, which is offered peer-to-peer by one student for another, and involves feeling more comfortable at Princeton and taking on responsibility in campus organizations.
  3. Mentoring for leadership on campus, which can be provided by faculty, staff, alumni/ae, or other students. This involves finding a voice, feeling comfortable with exercising authority, understanding how to set or influence an agenda, and learning how to run a meeting, pick one's battles, handle discouraging or offensive remarks, network, strategize, and build coalitions.
  4. Mentoring for professional success, offered by faculty and staff and also by alumni/ae and outside leaders in one's chosen field. This kind of mentoring includes advice about confronting difficult life choices, weighing trade-offs, making appropriate compromises, defining and sustaining one's ambitions, shaping one's professional identity, and combining career and family life.
     

Our recommendations include suggestions for accomplishing all these goals.

  • We recommend strengthening peer-to-peer advising in several ways, including a proposal for a new mentoring program for women in the residential colleges. Undergraduate women could be chosen to provide mentoring for female first-year students and sophomores, building on the current residential college advising program. Those students chosen as mentors could have resources to support their work, including access to faculty and staff advisers, occasional dinners where they share ideas and concerns, and visibility on campus that honors their activities. A named program of this kind could give opportunities for leadership for upperclass women and be of considerable benefit to their younger peers. When the program has been in existence for a few years, the University could consider whether to extend it to all students or retain the specific focus on women.

  • Residential college advising: Undergraduate women could be chosen to provide mentoring for female first-year students and sophomores, building on the current residential college advising program. Those students who are chosen as mentors could have resources to support their work, including access to faculty and staff advisers, occasional dinners where they share ideas and concerns, and visibility on campus that honors their activities. A named program of this kind could give opportunities for leadership for upperclass women and be of considerable benefit to their younger peers. When the program has been in existence for a few years, the University could consider whether to extend it to all students, or retain the specific focus on women students.
  • Major-specific peer-to-peer advising: An existing example at Princeton is the Society for Women Engineers , in which upperclass students mentor younger students interested in engineering. This model could be extended to other disciplines, and undergraduate associations in specific majors could give more attention to the mentoring of students (including prospective majors) by their peers.
  • Other comparable advising: Various organizations on campus, including athletic teams, arts groups, religious organizations, and eating clubs, often give specific attention to mentoring activities among their members. Frameworks could be suggested by the University for expanding these programs, but each group should develop its own best practices and share them with others. Several of the varsity athletic teams already engage in such activities, and these could be among the models for others to build upon.
  • We recommend the expansion of existing models at Princeton for faculty/student mentoring. Strengthening faculty mentoring is likely to be most effective where we can build on structures already in place: advising of junior independent work and senior theses, joint work with graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in laboratories, contacts in residential colleges, and academic advising. We would also encourage departmental representatives and chairs to think creatively about how departments might support effective academic mentoring for their majors.
  • One existing model at Princeton is the Freshman Orientation Panel for Women in Science, Math, and Engineering (sponsored by the Council on Science and Technology). Women interested in the natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering gather during Orientation to listen to and speak with female faculty members across the disciplines who address the audience about professional interests and life decisions; they also offer some advice to the students based on their experiences. All have lunch together. This kind of event could be made more frequent, or there could be ways to follow up later in the year or in subsequent years. This model could also be extended other disciplines from the humanities and the social sciences.
  • Strengthening faculty mentoring is likely to be most effective where we can build on structures already in place: advising of junior independent work and senior theses, work with graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in laboratories, contacts in residential colleges, and academic advising. We would also encourage departmental representatives and chairs to think creatively about how departments might support effective academic and postgraduate mentoring for their majors.
  • We recommend including graduate students in mentoring activities for undergraduates.
  • One possible model from other universities is a tutoring program based in residential houses or colleges that is used on several other campuses, including Harvard and Yale. In these programs, graduate students from several disciplines are affiliated with the residential houses, take some of their meals in the college dining room, and are available to provide mentoring and advice to undergraduates. There is already some involvement by graduate students in the Princeton colleges as resident graduate students, but more discipline-specific advising could be developed according to this model from other campuses.
  • Match Princeton women graduate students in Graduate Women in Science and Engineering with undergraduate women in science and engineering. This could also be a model for other disciplines.
  • We recommend bringing interested alumni/ae and students together in a variety of ways.
  • A leadership speakers series could be department-specific or campus-wide. Some activities in the Woodrow Wilson School already provide models for this type of event. Invite female/male leaders/professionals, especially alumni/ae, to share with female/male audiences some of their thoughts about how they navigated choices after Princeton. What life decisions did they confront? What challenges did they overcome? Ask the speakers to discuss their college experience as well as postgraduate experience. The group of invited speakers should include younger role models (assistant professors, graduate students, young professionals). Dinner after the events with invited undergraduate students could provide opportunities for exploring the issues raised in the talks. Such a series could acquaint students with the idea of difficult trade-offs and provide examples of strategies for dealing with challenges as well as choices made for a range of conflicts and their positive or negative consequences. Those invited should include both leaders who have chosen high-profile positions and others who have achieved professional success and shoulder responsibility without much public visibility. The series could encourage discussion of work/life balance on campus.
  • Bring undergraduates together with alumni/ae in the New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania area who are interested in forming closer ties with current students. There are a number of good models for doing this on other campuses, including the Harvard/Radcliffe alumnae program. The Harvard Women's Center has run the Radcliffe Mentor Program for 26 years. It matches successful alumnae with undergraduates. Each year the program has 200 alumnae who volunteer to act as mentors to undergraduates. Each mentor can take two students to mentor. Students choose their mentors. At the beginning of the fall, all of the mentors are listed anonymously on the program website with their interests and career goals. Students submit their top three choices for mentors and the Women's Center matches as many choice options as possible. The Women's Center places 85 percent of students who apply and select mentors. The program suggests that students and alumnae meet twice a semester for coffee There is a kick-off "meet and greet" hosted by the Women's Center in October, after which pairs are free to meet on their own.
  • We recommend building families of mentors from different generations, involved in working with specific small groups of undergraduate students.
  • Models on several other campuses, including colleges at Oxford University and the University Scholars and Baldwin Scholars programs at Duke, indicate the value of having intergenerational mentoring groups, where first-year students and sophomores are linked with upperclass students as well as graduate or professional students, faculty, and staff, and occasionally alumnae as well. This could be done through the residential colleges, different disciplines, or student organizations. Varsity athletic teams also provide models of intergenerational mentoring, with coaches, assistant coaches, and upperclass students acting as role models and leaders for younger students. Such intergenerational groups can provide benefits for all participants.
  • We recommend that the University offer prizes and recognition for successful mentors from these different categories to encourage and reward these efforts.
  • A number of professional associations and other organizations provide prizes to recognize faculty mentoring of graduate students, or mentoring of younger colleagues. We believe that such recognition on our campus would highlight the importance of mentoring, offer good examples for others to follow, and provide some way of thanking those who take the time to engage in such practices.