MENTORING

A Strategy for Increasing Minority Participation

 
Diola Bagayoko, Ph.D.

bagayoko@phys.subr.edu
Professor of Physics and Chancellor's Fellow
Director, the Timbuktu Academy
Southern University and A&M College
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70813
 

ABSTRACT

This presentation begins with a definition of mentoring. This is followed with a summary overview of the concept of "distributed responsibilities and of shared credits" and of the integrated law of human performance. We then describe the mentoring model of the Timbuktu Academy. Mentoring is shown as a clear strategy for increasing minority participation in science, mathematics, and engineering (SEM) disciplines, including the social and behavioral sciences. Proven practices of the Academy are cast into an operational definition of mentoring by individuals, groups, or departments. The role of social and behavioral sciences (SBS) not only includes the implementation of holistic mentoring practices in SBS departments and units, but also the provision of needed research support to assess and guide the effectiveness and implementation of mentoring programs from K through graduate school and beyond. For this reason, this presentation is an invitation for and a challenge to social and behavioral scientists, engineers, units and organizations. They, in the view of this speaker, are best equipped to effect and support the establishment of mentoring as a rigorous interdisciplinary field. This field, it will be noted, is a significant other in explaining the success of individuals, groups, or corporations through the ages.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The preparation and presentation of this paper were supported in part by funding from the Louisiana Alliance for Minority Participation (LAMP), the Department of the Navy, Office of Naval Research (ONR, Grant No. N00014-93-1-1368), and the US Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring (National Science Foundation Grant No. HRD-9612453). The author appreciated the assistance of Ms. Monika Wright and Ms. Monikka Mann, scholars of the Timbuktu Academy, in the typesetting and related processing of this paper. Mrs. Janet H. Reed kindly edited this article.

REFERENCING INFORMATION

This article is a preprint/reprint from: Proceedings, National Conference, funded in part by the National

Science Foundation (NSF) and the Louisiana Board of Regents through the Louisiana Alliance for

Minority Participation (LAMP), on "Exploring the Role of Social and Behavioral Science (SBS) Careers

in the 21st Century," April 18-19, 1997, the Radisson Hotel, New Orleans, Louisiana. Editor: Dr.

Emmanuel Osagie.

© Diola Bagayoko, 1997

A DEFINITION OF MENTORING

Preliminary Comments

The general socio-cultural immersion (conditioning) and interactions of an individual, from childhood through the highly productive adult years, can serve as a framework from which a definition of mentoring could be derived. In particular, the critical choices made by an individual are often implicit summations of prior experiences, knowledge, learned culture and value system, and a host of non-cognitive factors. These choices, for fortunate mentees, are often shaped in part by the vast repertoire of knowledge, skills, resources, experiences, and behavioral temperament of competent and dedicated mentors.

It appears that experiential learning in a supportive and challenging mentoring environment was the primary mode of education — before the inception and expansion of formal schooling that was partly made possible by the increased access to printed materials. This access is believed to have led to a separation, in a sense, of the two complementary components of a whole education, i.e., instruction and related learning on one hand, and mentoring on the other: mentoring promotes and enables quality learning, emotional and social maturity, and the building of habits and networks for personal and professional growth.

Some essential features of mentoring can be inferred from mentoring practices through the centuries! They are also apparent in current mentoring processes that are formal or informal.

These features include the following.

(a) In all cases, the mentee is "integrated" into the professional, social, or organizational activities. The often present experiential and contextual situations enabled and reinforced this integration; "the mentee belonged." Interestingly enough, if this belonging is not facilitated, for a given youngster, by constructive individuals or groups, it is often granted by others we do not want involved in the training of the next generation!

(b) There always seems to be a one to one relationship between the mentee and one or more mentors (see arts, crafts, military,...) even though a greater community was ultimately involved in the mentoring process.

(c) At no time does it appear that the success of the mentees was guaranteed without their own, sustained efforts — in intellectual, artistic, military, or other activities. Hence, mentoring not only entails supporting but also challenging.

(d) In fact, the intrinsic interest most mentors have in the enhanced performance of their mentees precludes any spoiling of the mentees! Mentees are valuable helping hands and minds on whom, in some case, the very life or livelihood of the mentors may depend in a not-so-distant future.

The contributions of students — undergraduate and particularly graduate students —to the research productivity of their mentors suffice to make the point for college student mentoring. In the case of the military, it is the life of some mentors that may depend on the performance of mentees.

A Definition of Professional "Student Mentoring" by Faculty and Departments

In light of the foregoing, and for a college environment, systemic and holistic mentoring entails the following specific activities or processes carried out not only by individual faculty members, but also by an academic department or unit as a whole. The systemic nature requires the weaving of mentoring into the instructional, research, service and related activities of a department and of the University.

Professional welcoming (or recruiting) is a first step in college student mentoring. This is to be done by individual faculty members and by the department. Without it, no assumptions could be made that a given student or group of students knew of the willingness of the faculty and department to professionally take charge of part of their education (another part is in the hands of the students).

Listening to the mentees, knowing some of their assumptions about college, and verifying (as opposed to assuming) their knowledge of critical or vital issues is a second part of college student mentoring. After hearing some faculty members recall how they "hurt" their grade point averages (GPA) by not knowing about the add and drop process that does not exist in high school, one should have a serious approach to this listening activity of mentoring. Of course, verifying that mentees actually know all the requirements for degrees (courses, their sequences, exams, department and college requirements, etc.) is a necessity. Sure, they are supposed to read these in the catalogue and many do.

Informing the mentees of expectations is one clear way of stating that one has faith in their "abilities" which, according to the integrated law of human performance, can be enhanced through adequate exposure, experience, practice, and effort. Bagayoko and Kelley (1994) provided a rigorous scientific basis for high expectations for all students for learning or research endeavors. Long-term benefits of their work and of the proper sequencing of courses (i.e. adhering to academic advisement) should be noted along with available services, including those for tutoring.

Supporting the mentees is partly done through helping in securing adequate financial support for them from diverse sources that may include Federal Financial Aid, the Louisiana Tuition Opportunity Program, grants, and the university. The adequacy of financial support permits the mentor "to demand" that the resulting time dividend be spent on learning and research activities as opposed to "holding odd jobs" to meet the "wants" that are well over the "needs." An indispensable support needed by the mentee consists of a host of interactions and opportunities that effect the social and academic integrations as per the Tinto (1975), Bean (1982), or Cabrera's (1992) college student retention models. This support is to provide opportunities and must never give the impression of guaranteeing success without the mentees' sustained efforts to achieve.

Challenging the mentees — in course work, preparation for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), research, communication and computer skills enhancement, and related activities is essential for college student mentoring. The power law of practice (PLP) makes this clear. According to the integrated law of human performance, it is not an accident that undergraduate research participation correlates positively with subsequent enrollment and success in graduate and professional schools.

Monitoring the activities and results of the mentees is an essential activity that differentiates between ad-hoc mentoring and one that is professional and leaves little to chance. Indeed, a portfolio should be kept on each mentee. The periodic reviews of this portfolio with the mentee should address academic progress, courses, grades, etc.; they should also address general skills enhancement, research participation and related presentations and publications. At an absolute minimum, there should be one review/meeting at the beginning of each semester (course sequencing and review of last semester grades), one to discuss mid-term grades, one around the end of the semester (to prepare in time for finals). All activities and results, including research and general enhancement activities, are to be reviewed. Without proper monitoring, one cannot write a well-informed recommendation letter for a graduate school or others.

Congratulating the mentees, when appropriate, is needed for good grades, research accomplishments, and model behavior or efforts. Naturally, these congratulations must not promote complacency. Human emotion and motivation studies proved B.F. Skinner (1953) to be correct in his belief in the "power of positive reinforcement"; explicitly stated approvals let the mentees know that the efforts and the positive results are known and are in the correct direction (and may appear in a future letter of recommendation).

Admonishing, stating disapproval, reproving, when needed, is one of the responsibilities of a mentor! However, this should be done in a positive tone; the point is not to just state "you failed," the point is to state that you have what it takes to succeed and the time has come for you to use it to avoid any future shortcomings. An invitation to see the mentor when in doubt or in difficulty is important: the mentees should be genuinely invited to discuss "potential problems" and their solutions, to call on the partner the mentor is. In a mentor-mentee relationship, no one can play the role of the mentee but the mentee. Should persistent and comprehensive efforts of the mentor fail to produce the desired positive actions on the part of a mentee, then that mentor-mentee relationship should simply be terminated for a better investment of the time of the mentor for society: opportunities, yes, a guarantee of success without sustained efforts, no.

Guiding mentees to graduate school should be an explicit task for mentors of college students. To understand the need for this guiding, one only has to conduct a cursory survey to find out how many undergraduate students know when to take the GRE or other tests, when to apply for graduate school, how many schools should be reasonably considered, and how to finance graduate education. As for minority students, too many do not know that teaching or research assistantships and fellowships are the preponderant way to financing a graduate education. Many undergraduate students, including some of the best prepared, do not know the extreme versatility research skills provide nor do they know about the implications of same for life long learning and employment security (not necessarily in a narrowly focused academic research field, even though the latter is still needed). Every freshman (as opposed to a senior who can do little to change his/her transcript) should be told what graduate schools expect in terms of undergraduate grade point average, research experiences, computer and communication skills, etc.

Writing substantive and informed letters of recommendation constitutes one form of support that lasts well after the mentee's graduation. This requires maintaining a portfolio on each mentee. It also requires keeping classroom and grade records for several years—for a faculty member. There are indications that minority students, with no particular mentor- mentee relationship with faculty members on a majority campus, feel particularly lost or abandoned in this critical area. Reference to the constructs of academic and social integrations, as per the student retention models (Tinto, 1975; Bean, 1982; Cabrera, 1992), sheds more light on the need for this task. Functional social integration is distinguished from dysfunctional social submersion. Recommendations are not just for graduate schools, they are also for the job market.

The above definition is intended to serve as a starting point for individual faculty members' mentoring activities. These activities, at Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge (SUBR), utilize some of the required five (5) "office hours" of faculty members; these hours were not adequately utilized by students, except on the very eve of examinations! As the lead institution of the Louisiana Alliance for Minority Participation (LAMP), SUBR instituted systemic mentoring in all its science, mathematics, and engineering departments in the Spring of 1997. At the core of this formal institutionalization is (a) the selection and training of a mentoring coordinator in each department, (b) the explicit inclusion of mentoring in the load of individual faculty members, and (c) the clear value of mentoring activities and results in the reward system (i.e., merit raises, tenure and promotion, etc.). The expansion of systemic mentoring practices to non-SEM departments started in August, 1997. This institutionalization also entails some significant and objective measures of accountability. In particular, mentoring activities and results were an explicit criterion in the Fall of 1996 raises for faculty members! Mentoring is an essentially labor-intensive activity. The time and effort demands on faculty mentors include the constancy of attention that results from following the above outlined professional approach to mentoring as opposed to a sporadic, ad-hoc, or anecdotal one. Incidentally, some of the record keeping noted above may well serve the purpose of "proving" that a given faculty member has actually deployed significant efforts for students mentoring, including research supervision. The systemic nature of the mentoring is ensured in part by making it an explicit part of the expectations and performance measures for faculty members and chairs. This systemic character is reinforced by practices described below for the Timbuktu Academy and that weave mentoring into the fabric of departments and of the university.

DISTRIBUTED RESPONSIBILITIES AND SHARED CREDITS

The above mention of the benefits of mentoring to the mentors and to the mentees, along with their respective responsibilities, leads to the concept of distributed responsibilities and of shared credits. A thorough appreciation of this concept seems to be critical for a successful mentoring relationship. The concept has some similarities with the "system approach" utilized in some engineering practices.

In a competitive sport environment (no complaint is intended) it is difficult to avoid ranking as 1st , 2nd , 3rd , 4th , etc. Reality, however, has it that the basic functional or operational core of a system is composed of interacting or coupled parts of vastly different values such that the ultimate value of each of them is that of the entire system! For instance, the little pipe bringing the fuel to the engine of a car has an ultimate value equal to that of the engine and of the car! The concept is easily understood if one distinguishes the value, as in dollars, of a component from its functional (or ultimate) value for the proper operation of the system.

The blessing (or curse) of the creation of educational value added resides in the understanding (or lack thereof) of distributed responsibilities and shared credits! For, not to understand it often leads to the easy leveling or accepting of blames on their "word value." The concept provides a framework for avoiding misunderstanding in a mentor-mentee relationship and for not permitting any one of them to easily blame the other before verifying — as with facts — what professional work he/she has consistently and persistenly done, if any.

As shown on the web site of the Timbuktu Academy (www.phys.subr.edu), very many organizations and individuals have contributed to the mentoring activities of the Academy. In particular, forty (40) undergraduate scholars of the Academy conduct summer research at federal, industrial, and university laboratories around the country. The labor intensive research-supervision by the scientists and engineers at these sites cannot be overemphasized.

THE INTEGRATED LAW OF HUMAN PERFORMANCE

The Power Law of Performance or of Practice (PLP) states that the time (T) it takes an individual to perform a given task decreases as the number of times (N) the individual practiced the task increases. In mathematical terminology, the law is:

T = A + B (N + E)-p or T = A + B/(N + E)p

where A, B, E and p are constants that vary (a) with the task at hand and (b) with the individual performing the task. A represents a physiological limit. B and E partly denote prior experiences before the beginning of the practice sessions, and p is the learning rate. In other words, the law states that "practice renders perfect." This law applies to the performance of sensory-motor (or athletic), creative (or artistic), and cognitive (or intellectual) tasks.

The shorter the time T to perform the task - completely and correctly - the higher the level of proficiency. Hence, as the number of practices increases so does the proficiency of the individual. The two figures below graphically show the plot of the above expression for text editing and problem solving tasks.

The dramatic impact of this law becomes apparent when one considers its application over several tasks and several days, months, and years. Then it becomes clear that genius is mostly the result of sustained practice. The same way adequate practice, at an adequate scope and depth, is needed for the making of Olympic, National Basketball Association, National Football Association, and Major League Soccer champions and for the making of musicians and artists, the same way it is needed for the making of science, engineering, and mathematics scholars, including scholars in the social and behavioral sciences.

Further, this law is implacable. It applies whether one likes it or not! It applies to the refinement of the enhancement of the teaching, mentoring, research, writing skills of a faculty member or of a mentee! These points are discussed further by Bagayoko and Kelley (1994) and Moore and Bagayoko (1994) in connection with the explanation of the creation of educational value added from K through graduate school and beyond.

The integrated or compound law of human performance (Bagayoko and Kelley, 1994), is the convolution of the power law of performance as simultaneously applied to several tasks over a long period of time. The main difference between the power law and the integrated law is that the former follows a simple equation that involves an exponent (i.e., p) while the mathematical form of the latter is yet to be determined. The quintessential point here, however, stems from the fact that according to the integrated law of human performance, the abilities, skills, and attributes of students that are meaningfully engaged and challenged in and outside (as by mentoring activities) the classroom — from K through graduate school and beyond — are the ones that will develop! The integrated law of human performance provides the scientific basis for high expectations for all students! This point is rigorously established by Bagayoko and Kelley (1994). Professional mentoring, as defined above, provides an almost fail-safe strategy for promoting the academic excellence of all students, including minority students. Hence, mentoring is the strategy for increasing minority participation in Science, Mathematics, and engineering enterprise of this country. Student retention becomes a by-product of the quest for proficiency and excellence.

Figure Caption: The above figure and the one below illustrate graphically the power law of human performance or of practice (PLP). They clearly show that as the number N of practices increases, the time it takes a subject to perform text editing or problem solving tasks decreases. A plot of 1/T versus N will show that proficiency increases as the number N of practices increases.

REPLICATING THE MODEL OF THE TIMBUKTU ACADEMY

One of the systemic and holistic mentoring models followed by the Louisiana Alliance for Minority Participation (LAMP) is that of the Timbuktu Academy at Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge (SUBR). Other similar models include those of Grambling State University's (GSU) Department of Physics, of the Physics Department of the University of New Orleans (UNO), and of engineering mentoring programs on LAMP campuses. The Timbuktu Academy was initiated with funding from the National Science Foundation's Division for Human Resource Development, the Louisiana Board of Regents, and SUBR. The current major funding sources of the Academy are the Department of the Navy, Office of Naval Research and NASA. The reader is urged to consult the world wide web site of the Timbuktu Academy (at http://www.phys.subr.edu) where extensive details are provided on the objectives, paradigm, programs, activities, scholars, results, and funding sources of the Academy. In particular, details are provided on some ten (10) mentoring activities and related rationale.

A distinction of the Timbuktu Academy consists of : (a) general principles whose sum constitutes its paradigm, (b) the design and operation of its programs in accordance with these principles, and (c) the rigorous adherence of the activities to the paradigm. Specifically, the key mentoring activities at the precollege and undergraduate levels are not only listed along with their rationale, but are also keyed to the principles of the paradigm. The Academy currently has one hundred (100) undergraduate scholars, over fifty (50) of whom are majoring in physics, and over 200 precollege students every Summer. Key principles of the Academy include the primacy of languages as vehicles of thought, the integrated law of human performance, and cognitive condensation (Bagayoko and Kelley, 1994).

A specific feature of the Timbuktu Academy that is critical for successful replication stems from its integration into the departmental and University life! Yes, it takes a whole university to mentor a student. Some basic aspects of this integration are handled, in every SEM department at SUBR, by a mentoring coordinator. The role of this coordinator is very similar to that of the Director of the Timbuktu Academy. Indeed, in addition to engaging in mentoring activities, with individual students, the Academy Director ensures that the Academy is literally woven into the fabric of the Department of Physics at SUBR, as opposed to being a parallel or competing entity. The increased enrollment, the enhanced quality of the students, and the research related productivity of these students are some basic benefits to the department and to individual faculty members. Hence, to support the Academy, i.e., by mentoring some scholars, is to support oneself — for the department and for individual faculty members. The University policy that includes mentoring as an explicit criterion for merit raises, for faculty members, is an added incentive for faculty involvement in mentoring!

From a practical point of view, however, not every faculty member in a department is supposed to act like the Director of the Timbuktu Academy. Rather, there should be a departmental mentoring coordinator to play essentially a role similar to that of the Director of the Timbuktu Academy. Individual faculty members follow the definition for mentoring as provided in the first section above. The departmental mentoring activities are systemic if they are woven into the operation of the University as a whole. Naturally, this leads to a healthy and institutionalized synergism between the departmental mentoring program and the Office of Admissions and Recruitment, the Junior Division, the Alumni Affairs Office, the Cooperative Education Office, the Honors College, etc. In light of these points and others, the departmental mentoring coordinator has the following vital tasks to perform:

Working with the department chair, teaching assistants, and staff members to see to it that students who need tutoring have it; tutoring should be made available at a fixed place, at regular hours, and the tutors should include faculty (one supervisor) and well trained advanced undergraduates (and graduate students, if applicable); if the actual utilization of technology is taking place, then one expects electronic mail (e-mail) communication to be utilized in mentoring and for setting-up some advisement or tutoring meetings or appointments and more;

Maintaining a comprehensive data base that captures every pertinent information item on the background, grades, research accomplishments, publication and presentation record of each scholar; mentors provide the data on their mentees to the coordinator;

Following-up with the mentees, even after graduation - this entails knowing the graduate school or the employment information of each alumnus;

Writing proposals to secure funding from a variety of sources including federal, industrial, foundation sources, and the institution itself;

Placing mentees in research projects — on and off campus—and in Summer internship positions; special emphasis to be placed on securing thesis research advisors for mentees that are in the Honors College;

Interfacing professionally with (a) the Admissions and Recruitment Office, (b) the Junior Division, (c) the Honors College, for matters of recruitment and mentoring, and (d) the Office of Grants and Sponsored Programs for funding opportunities; this list is not exhaustive. The optimum utilization of available institutional offices and resources is a first indicator of the systemic nature of a departmental mentoring program.

It should be particularly underscored that the systemic mentoring at the departmental level, as practiced at SUBR, is vertically integrated in addition to being horizontally woven into standard practices. By vertical integration, it is meant that the precollege outreach activities, undergraduate recruitment, undergraduate mentoring and research participation, and the guidance of the prospective alumini to graduate school are all coordinated by the mentoring coordinator.

INCREASING MINORITY PARTICIPATION AND THE ROLE OF SBS

Systemic or holistic mentoring, as noted above, is quintessentially needed for LAMP (a) to double, in four years, the numbers of minority students earning B.S. degrees in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (SMET) on LAMP campuses, (b) to enhance the academic and professional preparedness of these graduates, and (c) to send at least 20% of these LAMP alumni to successful pursuits of graduate degrees, with special emphasis on the Ph.D. degree. These numeric and quality objectives are similar to those of other alliances for minority participation (AMPs).

A first role for the social and behavioral sciences (SBS) clearly consists of establishing systemic mentoring practices and programs in SBS departments and units. The luncheon speech of Dr. William Butz (1997) at this conference conveyed the extensive scope and depth of the contributions of SBS disciplines to most activities and facets of society. While the many dimensions of these contributions suffice to embark on a systemic mentoring program for the training of future social and behavioral scientists, the relative underrepresentation of minorities in these disciplines, particularly at the doctoral level, adds a degree of urgency as far as African-Americans, Hispanic, Native Americans, and other minorities are concerned.

A second role for SBS faculty, departments, and organizations stems from their ideal position for making significant contributions to the establishment and strengthening of systemic mentoring as a vibrant interdisciplinary field of inquiry. Specifically, a host of studies related to the creation of educational or professional value added, in general, and to the relevance and effectiveness of mentoring, in particular, may include some of the following topics: case studies on mentoring; explorations of the integrated law of performance; good parenting as mentoring and positive role modeling, along with the importance of same for the K-12th grade students; mentoring and its impact in enabling learning, effects of experiential exposure to complex tasks, like research, on the subsequent growth of a mentee; the role of mentoring in the analysis of critical paths and decisions apparent in written and unwritten biographies of successful individuals; applications and refinements of current student retention models with emphasis on the impact of mentoring; peer-mentoring; distance-mentoring as through the use of the Internet and related technologies; comparative studies of mentoring in college, in the military and in industry; role modeling as a form of non-holistic mentoring; the pervasive role of mentoring in social and professional organizations and clubs from the dawn of humanity to present; etc. Vibrant research and scholarly activities will provide meaningful experiential growth opportunities for the mentees.

REFERENCES

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