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For Faculty

The McNair Scholar Program would like to express its gratitude to you, the mentor, for taking the time and making the commitment to the program and its’ Student Scholars. The following information regarding the mentor/mentee process and understanding the First-Generation/Low-Income college student may be helpful to you. These are simply some “best-practices” and information about the targeted student population. Please utilize as you see fit and when applicable.

Postsecondary Access and Success for First-Generation College Students by Jennifer Eagle


Eastern Washington University McNair Scholar Program
The Ronald E. McNair Post baccalaureate Achievement Program prepares low-income, first-generation and/or underrepresented minority undergraduates for success in doctoral programs by providing scholarly activities and community engagement that empower participants to become agents of positive change in a culturally diverse world. EWU McNair encourages graduate studies by providing seminars, workshops and other organized opportunities for McNair undergraduates to define and create plans for achieving their goals, to gain in-depth information on the graduate school application process, to engage in research, to develop graduate-level reading and writing skills, to prepare for the GRE, to learn how to seek graduate funding and to adopt financial planning strategies, and to build the skills and the student/faculty mentor relationships critical to success at the doctoral level. A particular focus is to provide research opportunities for students.  

Summer Grading
Grading of the summer research internship is consistent with other courses offered on campus, which is on the 4.0 scale. It is contingent upon successful completion of the of the summer research project/paper. If a student is going to continue the project the following academic year a grade of a “Y” may be assigned.

Understanding the needs and background of First-Generation/Low-Income Students
Mentoring is one of the oldest processes of passing on knowledge and skills. In recent years, new models of mentoring have been recognized. These new models encourage a more relational approach to mentoring by encouraging the expression of feelings and creating a personal relationship between the mentor and mentee (McGuire & Reger, 2003). The majority of literature and studies centering on mentoring minority and/or First Generation College students have primarily focused on issues of retention and graduation instead of the students’ perceptions of the process and subsequent benefits of mentoring (Ishiyama, 2007).  While studies conducted are essential in showing a positive correlation between mentoring programs and retention in a college setting (Jaswal & Jaswal, 2008), it is also important to have an understanding of what students perceive as benefits.

According to one particular pilot study regarding First Generation college students and mentoring, the number one role of a mentor is “friend,” followed by “resource” (Gonzalez & Ezell, ND). While this is in the context of a slightly different academic setting, nonetheless, it demonstrates the changing nature of the mentoring relationship. Moreover, it reflects the nurturing familial atmosphere created in the McNair office. We are, however, not requiring this type of mentor relationship, but simply offering suggestions, utilizing new existing research that is consistent with the EWU McNair environment.
Research has shown that being a first-generation student has negative effect on persistence and attainment, even when other factors such as socioeconomic status are taken into account. Low-income students are often first generation as well, but even those who are not, face numerous pressures that can result in their attrition (Ouderkirk and See, ND).
In comparison with other students, those who are first generation or low income are:

  • More likely to delay enrollment in postsecondary education, which means they are more likely to be married or have dependents. Those of traditional age are more likely to live at home and to enroll part-time.
  • More likely to have non-academic obligations, such as work and family responsibilities that influence study habits. Overall, they tend to study fewer hours than their peers.
  • More likely to report that an important goal for them is to be well-off financially so that they can provide their children with better opportunities than they had.
  • Less informed about the full costs of college attendance and more reluctant to take out loans, as a result they tend to work an inordinate number of hours.
  • More likely to report feeling they do not belong or do not feel welcome on campus. Social and cultural factors may lead to attrition.
  • Less likely to make appointments (and more likely to break them). They are often hesitant to approach faculty members, advisers, or student service providers for assistance. They tend to place a high value on being independent and self-reliant.
  • Less likely to be informed about graduate and professional school options.
  • More likely to have an anti-intellectual perspective, valuing knowledge that is practical rather than academic.
  • Less likely to be involved in student organizations or other co-curricular activities.

(Ouderkirk and See, ND)

Assisting First-Generation/Low-Income Students
Lacking a basic knowledge of how to navigate postsecondary education, these students tend to have a greater need than their peers for academic, social, and personal support. The following strategies can promote their academic success:

  • Enroll students in a learning community.
    • Enrolling in the McNair Program provides a step in the right direction
  • Involve the students with faculty, staff, and other students, particularly in activities that are directed toward student learning.
    • Summer Research Internship and engaging in the mentor/mentee relationship
  • Recommend courses that engage students in learning. These students tend to prefer classes that involve interactive, hands-on teaching methods.
    • Collaborative learning environment of McNair seminars
  • Provide the students with clear guidance of what they have to do to be successful.
    • McNair Scholar staff in conjunction with McNair Scholar mentors
  • Encourage the students to engage in experiences that will broaden their awareness of academic programs and career options. They will probably need more assistance than other students to secure internships, perform informational interviews, and arrange career shadowing experiences.
  • Always maintain high expectations and set high standards for the student.

(Ouderkirk and See, ND)

Best Practices for Mentoring:  Steps to ensure a successful research partnership

  • Identify ways to socialize the student into the culture of your discipline, lab, project, etc. What is proper lab etiquette? What are the roles and responsibilities of the various members of your research group? Who can answer what questions? How does one keep track of information/data collection?
  • Provide the student with background reading to help them understand how their piece of the project relates to the larger project.
  • Set-up regularly scheduled meetings if not weekly, then biweekly. Take a few minutes during each meeting to ask how the student is doing outside of your project.
  • Make your expectations clear from the beginning this includes: deadlines, best methods to communicate with you, hours of work, level of detail you require in reports, lab notebooks, etc.
  • Let the student know when you want them to check in and how much freedom they have to problem solve on their own and be independent.
  • Provide opportunities for the student to take on increasing responsibility and more difficult tasks and responsibilities when they have demonstrated competence.
  • Make time to discuss with the student the ethical issues they may encounter from the fabrication of data to who owns the research, intellectual property, confidentiality, etc.
  • Let students know there will be ups and downs in the research process and that there are many tedious moments in research, failures, etc. as well as exciting moments.
  • Make some time on occasion to talk to the student about life outside the research project, how things are going in their classes, personal goals, adjustment to campus, etc. This means a great deal to a student when you take an interest in them as a person.

(Merkel and Baker, ND)

The successful mentor:

  • Volunteers time to take a personal interest in others
  • Listens’ actively
  • Questions and finds out what is important to others, exploring their skills, aptitudes, and aspirations
  • Challenges assumptions and acts as a sounding board
  • Creates an open and candid relationship, to encourage the growth of trust and confidence, which assists the learning process
  • Helps someone less experienced to learn by allowing minor errors, but will endeavor to prevent them making major errors
  • Brings a rigorously professional approach to the mentoring relationship
  • Recognizes when the mentee should be indentifying a need for other sources of help
  • Gains significant personal and career development from mentoring

Suggested questions to ask the mentee:

  • What is your educational background?
  • What are your extra-curricular activities and interests?
  • How did you become interested in this major and field?
  • Do you have any work experience related to the field?
  • What are your career plans post-graduation?

Expectations of mentoring:

  • Meetings: Althgough there is no standerd number of weekly meetings held by mentors, the McNair Program has discovered that Scholars are usually kept on-task when they meet with mentors on a weekly basis.
  • Evaluation
  • Guidance regarding careers and professional interests
  • Understanding
  • Answering questions
  • An understanding ear
  • A positive role model

Helpful Hints:

  • It is important to establish ground rules at the beginning of the relationship. Establish communication lines (appropriate and best methods, frequency of contact, etc.), responsibilities, and expected outcomes early. Doing this will help to avoid misunderstandings later and will help the mentor and mentee avoid conflict.
  • If communication has lapsed between the mentor and the mentee, make contact. There is no need to wait on the other person to make contact. Feel free to ask about professional interests, activities, or academic history. (If after several attempts you cannot establish contact, please contact the McNair office).
  • Advice and guidance may be richer and more relevant if it comes from someone who knows you well and understands your goals. Be open to building an honest, transparent relationship with your mentor, even if your backgrounds, or interests aren’t a perfect match.

(The Pennsylvania State University, College of Health and Human Development, 2011)

 Mentors, Mentoring, and McNair

Mentors and Mentoring:

  • Mentoring is an interpersonal relationship that contributes to the student’s sense of competence, confidence and effectiveness.
  • Mentoring advances the person’s scholastic and professional goals in directions they desire
  • Effective mentoring involves understanding and acknowledging the student’s different identities and communities.

Mentoring includes:

  • Advising
    • Provide any knowledge of department specific needs and/or progression to degree completion, when applicable. Guidance on career specific opportunities or direction, when applicable
  • Supporting
    • Guide and support during the research process
  • Tutoring
    • Serve as a resource or guide Scholar to overcome any limitation identified
  • Sponsoring
    • Serve as an advocate for Scholar, if comfortable when student and benchmarks achieved
  • Modeling
    • Demonstrate appropriate behavior and/or work ethic for being successful in academia

Benefits of mentoring to students:

  • Improved academic performance
    • The summer research internship builds academic confidence and a great level of comfort in conducting research.
  • Increased productivity
    • Established deadlines for the completion of work and a sent agenda guided by the research proposal, provides greater space for efficiency and productivity
  • Improved professional skills
    • The summer research internship provides experiential learning opportunities for direct professional development.
  • Higher self confidence
    • The process of successfully conducting research builds, not only, academic confidence, but overall self confidence.
  • Expanded social and professional networks
    • The results of the research will be presented at various conferences providing opportunities for networking. Additionally, opportunities for engagement with other faculty in the Mentor/mentee’s academic discipline.

Benefits of mentoring to faculty:

  • Attract good students
    • McNair Scholars
  • Amplify your own success
    • Conducting original research, maybe leading to publication
    • Develop professional network
  • Presentation of research at regional and/or national conferences
  • Satisfaction of seeing your students succeed
    • The successful completion of the Summer Research Internship
  • Expand your knowledge of the field and life experiences

One last bit of advice:

  • Hold high expectations for your McNair Mentee
  • Recognize that the McNair program is challenging, yet beneficial, but can be stressful for both of you.
  • Communicate how skills and abilities can be learned and developed; subsequently applied to the world of academia

(Gutierrez, 2012)

Gonzalez, J., Ezell, J. (ND). Pilot Study conducted at Texas State University, University Advising. Mentoring First Generation College Students Pilot Study.

Gutierrez, L., University of Texas—El Paso, 1/10/2012; presented at the University of Michigan, MORE (mentoring others results in excellence) conference.

Ishiyama, J. (2007). Expectations and perceptions of undergraduate research mentoring: Comparing first generation, low income white/Caucasian and African American students. College Student Journal, 41(3), 540-549.

Jaswal, F., Jaswal, T.M. (2008). Tiered mentoring to leverage student body expertise. New Directions for Community Colleges, 144, 55-61.

McGuire, G., Reger, J. (2003). Feminist co-mentoring: A model for academic professional development. NWSA Journal, 15(1), 54-72.

Merkel, C. , Baker, S. (ND). “How to Mentor Undergraduate Researchers” published by the Council on Undergraduate Research.

Ouderkirk, B., Director of Student Support Services, UW-Eau Claire. (ND).  Awareness Points for First-Generation/Low-Income Students. Handout compiled by Patti See/contact for more information.

The Pennsylvania State University, College of Health and Human Development. Alumni Mentoring Program Mentorship Program Best Practices. (2011). Best Practices for Mentor Relationships.

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