Building Effective Mentor Relationships in Online Degree Programs

In this article, we take a look at why mentorship programs are important, and how they can survive in an increasingly remote environment.

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Mentorship relationships are an important aspect of helping students attain success. Not only can a well-established mentor help the student navigate the challenges of classwork, but they can also serve as a powerful professional connection once the student graduates.

In traditional universities, mentorship connections are straightforward. Students can meet directly with their mentor—get drinks, coffee, or just have a venting session during office hours. But now that online degrees are becoming increasingly more prominent, is there a way for mentorship relationships to continue into the digital era?

In this article, we take a look at why mentorship programs are important, and how they can survive in an increasingly remote environment.

Why Mentorship Matters

Before we dive too far into this article, let’s take a look at why mentorship matters in the first place. In our age, it is a concept that comes across as mildly antiquated. Is it even something that schools need to worry about when it comes to building up their online programs?

While mentorship programs aren’t as common as they once were, there are many reasons why it is a tradition that should carry on even online.

• It keeps students accountable: Many college students are on their own for the first time in their lives. Without their parents keeping up with them to stay on top of homework, it is easier for them to get a little lax in their study habits. A good mentorship relationship can provide a degree of oversight while still allowing the student the opportunity to enjoy their independence.

• It connects them with future opportunities: While mentorship programs are not necessarily designed as an employment pipeline, they can serve as a great way for college students to network. The mentor may not go on to hire their mentee but they can provide career support in the form of introductions, or recommendation letters. Even good old-fashioned advice can be helpful for students seeking their first post-college job.

• Mentorships can help students manage stress: School is hard. For many students, it is the most stressful time of their lives up until that point. Having someone whose only job is to listen and provide guidance can provide students with a healthy and productive outlet for their feelings. This can help students avoid burnout while also achieving better classroom outcomes.

While all of these benefits are possible with mentorship relationships, it does require active effort from both parties. That can be hard to accomplish. Lives get busy and it’s always easier NOT to do something—even when the thing in question is pleasant.

How can universities help connect remote students with qualified mentors? Below, we take a look at a couple of considerations that might help.

Use the Right Tools

One of the most important components of successful remote collaboration is developing the right tech stack. While online university programs will generally have a pre-established system for communication, the tools used can still vary a little bit. For example, some teachers will use PushFar, Skype, Zoom, or Google Meets.

Others will rely more specifically on the communication tools built into their online learning modules.

Finding a singular method of communication that is both accessible to and agreeable for all involved parties is a fundamental step toward ensuring fruitful collaboration.

Establish Participation Incentives

It’s not always easy to get people to voluntarily take on new work— particularly when it is optional. Mentor programs do typically benefit everyone involved but then so does eating spinach and that’s not the most popular thing in the world either.

To ensure the success of your program, it is important to establish incentives. Mentors, for example, may receive some form of compensation for their participation. Many universities will implement a stipend system. No one gets rich from the arrangement, but it does ensure that everyone will take the situation seriously.

While you can’t pay students for participating in a mentorship program you can attract participants by highlighting the many opportunities that can arise from fruitful professional relationships.

Benefits of Online Mentorship Programs

While there are logistical issues with having fully remote mentorship relationships, there are also benefits. The biggest is that they allow people to connect with established professionals from anywhere in the world. This provides the mentee with a much wider range of people to work with and learn from.

Let’s say you are a student at a University. It’s a very fine school and you are happy with their biology department, where you have been studying for two years. The only problem? The only biologist within one hundred miles of here is your professor. He’s a fine guy, but “mentorship,” doesn’t seem to be on his to-do list.

But what if you could expand your pool of potential instructors beyond the very limiting confines of central Illinois? With a fully remote mentorship program, you could work with professionals in California, New York, Japan.

Naturally, the school will still need to find ways to attract qualified mentors. However, with a significantly wider candidate pool, it should be easier to find interested parties.

Silver Lining?

While all of the headings above seem to describe a scenario in which establishing mentorship connections remotely will be an uphill battle, it is important to remember how adaptable people are. While nothing about the first weeks of Covid felt smooth or easy, a retrospective look at the situation may paint a more positive picture. Businesses and schools pivoted gracefully into a digital collaborative space.

Tools like Zoom have made it much easier for people to form connections on the internet. And while the results have not been perfect, businesses all around the world are still operating fully remotely, finding ways to help employees form connections with one another even across continents.

Online connections are possible. With effort and commitment from all parties, there are plenty of opportunities for fully remote students to still have rewarding relationships with established professionals in their field.

To learn more about mentoring and how PushFar is used by organisations to build fully remote mentoring programs, book a free demonstration.

This article was guest written by Andrew Deen.

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