Recruiting and Engaging Specific Populations in Mentoring

Last month, LX and BYU hosted three sessions in the BYU/LX Experiential Learning Summit Series. In our first February webinar, we discussed how to recruit and effectively engage underrepresented students through mentorship with panelists Dr. Alisha Redelfs (Assistant Professor of Public Health, BYU), and Paul Frandsen (Assistant Professor of Genetics, Genomics, and Biotechnology, BYU).


Inclusive Mentoring


Dr. Alisha Redelfs kicked off our first session of the day with some great insights on mentoring. When it comes to education, it is important to understand that underrepresented students vary widely. BIPOC, LGBTQ+, first-generation, and disabled students all are historically underrepresented, but the location of your institution or the gender breakdown of your field might mean that religious or non-religious students or male or female students are underrepresented as well. Once you have an idea of which students might have a lack of resources or representation based on your institution, you can develop your mentorship. Mentorship can be anything- helping students to graduate, providing them with research opportunities, helping them to plan for future careers, or simply networking with you and with your peers.


Targeting students in your courses who are underrepresented can be a hard task. Many people tend to mentor those who remind them of their younger selves because they think they have a connection to that student. Dr. Redelfs pointed out that everyone needs a chance to get mentored, not just the students with 4.0 GPAs or like us because often they have already had privileges or advantages that will serve them in the research or job market. Her advice is to recruit at least one student who doesn’t have the highest recommendation- if you take the time to mentor and help students who aren’t at the top of your class to grow, they will trust you enough to open up. She pointed out that you never know why someone is dropping the ball in your class or what personal struggles they are going through, and mentorship might make a huge difference in their academic success at your institution. A few small action steps to get started in inclusive mentoring is it to highlight departments of inclusion or cultural houses on campus to your students, to use your syllabus to encourage students to have discussions about microaggressions or come to you if something has made them uncomfortable, and to work on developing trust with students who aren’t in the top half of the class.


Lessons Learned from Mentoring


Paul Frandsen continued the conversation with his personal experience with a mentorship program that was designed to provide opportunities for students of color in the entomology field. He provided some really clear takeaways:

· Listen and learn from students

· Diversity in teams always improves the creativity and ability of the team

· Students from underrepresented groups might not know they can come to you directly for resources or opportunities

· Short-term opportunities like study abroad or internships can be inaccessible to students who have financial obligations and cannot take extended time off from other jobs, especially if internships are unpaid

· Representation is important for students to feel like they can be successful in their desired field


With these takeaways in mind, Frandsen says that we can be more inclusive mentors and provide opportunities that students in underrepresented groups can actually take advantage of. He left the webinar with several ideas to begin promoting diversity in experiential learning. In the recruiting phase:

· Actively recruit in student groups, job postings, and wherever you can reach these students who don’t know they can go to the staff for opportunities

· Let students know paid work is available and an option for them

· Strive to create long-term opportunities. Even if the hours of work per week are lower, it will ease the burden on students who couldn’t take off work for short-term opportunities.

· Make sure that students know, from your syllabus and from your actions, that you value their contributions and that you are here for any concerns or questions they have

· Invite diverse speakers to seminar series or events so students can see the diversity that exists within their field


Our final webinar in the BYU/LX Experiential Learning Summit Series will take place on April 16th with keynote speakers Michael Horn (Senior Strategist, Guild Education) and Jeffrey Brown (Dean, Gies College of Business at UIUC). Registration links can be found at https://experience.byu.edu/experiential-learning-summit-2020