27 Networked Mentoring Programs in Academia

Dawn E. Chanland


This chapter proposes the value of informal and formalized university networked mentoring programs for the benefit of students, faculty, and staff. As research on networked approaches has proliferated, more university programs that transcend the traditional focus on one-on-one mentoring dyads are also on the rise. Drawing upon the evidence-based and theoretical literatures on networks and formal programs, I discuss four networked approaches that have shown promise to maximize mentoring’s effectiveness in universities. The approaches involve varying degrees of university resource investment. We consider formal program characteristics that predict positive program and relational effectiveness in undertaking networked approaches. In addition, we integrate the literature on learning and career competencies to underscore the importance of program design that begins with consideration of participant learning outcomes. The chapter’s central aim is to provide university leaders with knowledge about how to utilize a networked approach to heighten personal learning, career clarity, and educational satisfaction among its primary stakeholders.

Correspondence and questions about this chapter should be sent to the author: chanlandd@queens.edu


I would like to acknowledge Dr. Kathy E. Kram, my longtime mentor and the person who introduced me to the mentoring and developmental networks literatures. Kathy spent her entire career not only as a scholar, but also as a mentor to many. She has been and will remain one of the most influential people in my life.

In her seminal book, Mentoring at Work: Developmental Relationships in Organizational Life, which ushered mentoring into the contemporary literature, Kram (1985) noted that despite the significant value that can come from a traditional, singular mentoring relationship, most people likely derive their relational learning from “constellations” of people. Her book aligns with the rise of formal mentoring programs in practice, which were in part a means to address Title IX legislation aimed at removing barriers to equal participation in the workplace. Most formal programs’ central characteristic was the pairing of a more seasoned professional with a junior one for the purpose of supporting the latter’s growth and development. Kram’s recognition of the reality of people drawing support from networks was largely ignored in organizations for the next 20 years in favor of formalized one-on-one dyads.

Over time, with Higgins and Kram’s 2001 research applying a social network perspective to mentoring and the concomitant organizational shifts (e.g., flatter, team-based structures and increased organizational demography) that brought the notion of constellations to the foreground, networks began to gain traction in practice. The past 20 years have seen substantive headway in research on networked approaches (e.g., multiple mentors, co-mentoring, developmental networks, and others) and some use of them in various settings, including business, medicine, and education. In spite of progress in their usage and empirical support in favor of them, however, formal university programs involving singular dyadic relationship pairing still represent the dominant paradigm. We assert here that while networked approaches are not the norm, they represent great promise for academia, as they can overcome mentoring issues related to an over-reliance on one omniscient, omnipotent mentor, usually a faculty member, as a false reality. Academic institutions have not yet fully leveraged network approaches, likely because of a lack of awareness of them as alternatives and little knowledge on how to fully design and execute them.

This chapter discusses four networked approaches that can be implemented effectively in higher education with undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students, faculty, and staff. Each has merits and requires different degrees of university investment, which are discussed for administrators and others who would design them. Best practices in formal mentoring design are integrated into the discussion for the purpose of considering how to successfully implement the four alternatives in practice. Moreover, the literature on learning and career competencies is instructive in helping program designers start with what learning outcomes are desired as the first step in creating formal programs. The next section offers a brief overview of key characteristics of networked programs and the importance of creating them with desirable learning outcomes in mind. In the section that follows, the four primary approaches are discussed in detail.

Networked Approaches in Academia and Their Value

Networked approaches align with Kram’s notion of career constellations in that people most likely draw support, and need to, from multiple individuals in their lives as sources of growth and development. Traditional approaches implicitly rely upon the idea that one person—a peer, a faculty member—has the time, know-how, and willingness to meet all of another person’s needs. In exploring that possibility, consider the life of a typical faculty member, with its foci on substantive teaching, research, and service requirements. Faculty members have increasingly been required to engage in additional requirements, such as engaging in public relations activities, collaborating with businesses, student recruiting, alongside their central responsibilities (de Janasz & Sullivan, 2004). The ability to juggle all of the faculty career demands is challenging and demanding. Furthermore, universities often fail to create incentives for quality mentorship, including the fact that promotional criteria rarely favor mentorship (Tuma et al., 2021). These factors together disallow most faculty mentors from being able to dedicate sufficient time to meet all of their doctoral, undergraduate, and graduate students’ growth and development needs. Higgins and Kram’s (2001) reconceptualization of mentoring as a developmental network aligns well with academic programs; rather than relying on faculty members to nurture significant single dyadic relationships with each of their students, the university can leverage mentoring by networked structural approaches to support students.

Moreover, today’s reality of professorial careers means that academics have stronger learning needs within their fields relative to previous decades. Research has called for professors’ careers to be viewed as better served through a portfolio of mentors who grow professors’ competencies over time as they transition from their doctoral programs through full professorship (de Janasz & Sullivan, 2004). In addition, a networked model may better serve women and minorities in particular because of its ability to bring greater inclusion and access to diverse role models (Girves et al., 2005). Lastly, university staff, too, can benefit from networked approaches, as they have similar growth needs and may experience limitations in what their supervisors can provide from a time and support perspective.

Networked approaches have been described over time as encompassing multiple mentors (e.g., Baugh & Scandura, 1999), group mentoring arrangements (Huizing, 2012), and developmental networks (see Dobrow et al., 2012, for a review). Multiple mentoring conceptualizations acknowledge that a focal person likely needs assistance from more than one person to support their needs, with those individuals in both work and life domains (e.g., de Janasz & Sullivan, 2004). Multiple mentoring does not assert specific arrangements for formalized programs, just that individuals need multiple mentors for growth. Group mentoring is a broad term representing a number of arrangements involving three or more people engaged in simultaneous, collaborative learning (Huizing, 2012). One-to-many mentoring (OTMM), many-to-many mentoring (MTMM), and peer group mentoring (PGM) have been articulated as among them (Huizing, 2012). OTMM, for example, could involve a faculty member who guides four to six students simultaneously during real-time meetings as a guide and ally to their growth. Students learn alongside each other and their faculty guide. PGM could occur, for example, in the case of new faculty members who informally form a group to share advice, discuss tenure and promotion expectations at their respective universities, establish plans to meet those requirements, and meet each other’s psychosocial needs. Lastly, developmental networks have been conceived of as egocentric networks in which the focal individual (e.g., a staff or faculty member, an undergraduate student) holds simultaneous relationships with “developers” from different social spheres (e.g., community, work, family, graduate school) who provide varied amounts of psychosocial and career-related support. I propose that each of these types of networked approaches, or a hybrid of them, can be undertaken in academic settings successfully. Before articulating each approach in detail, we discuss the preeminent importance of considering program learning-outcome aims prior to choosing a particular structural arrangement.

Personal Learning Aims: Begin With the End in Mind

De Janasz and Sullivan (2004) smartly articulated the need to consider changing academic careers and the associated competencies needed to succeed at various career stages as supporting the need for multiple mentors. More generally, the notion of career competencies (DeFillippi & Arthur, 1996) and personal learning (Lankau & Scandura, 2002) are instructive to maximizing the effectiveness of networked approaches in academic settings. Career competencies include the notions of knowing why, knowing how, and knowing whom (DeFillippi & Arthur, 1996) and can be used to evaluate the learning needs of faculty, staff, and students. Knowing why refers to a person’s clarity around motivations, passions, and beliefs, and relates to how a person’s identity aligns with tasks, projects, and orientations. Knowing how refers to the skills and knowledge a person needs to perform well. Knowing whom refers to people who can support someone’s learning, access to opportunities and resources, and reputation. Similarly, research shows that mentoring is positively related to personal learning, the latter of which includes relational job learning, referring to understanding the interdependence between a person’s job and the jobs of others, and personal skill development referring to acquisition of new skills and abilities (Lankau & Scandura, 2002). Taken together, these two threads of the careers literature underscore that networked mentoring approaches can support the development of needed competencies and learning to perform and adapt well in changing professorial careers and student and staff learning requirements. Applying this work, Table 27.1 shows personal learning needs for faculty, staff, and students.

Research has suggested that clarity around and communication of formal mentoring approach objectives is important for program success (Eby & Lockwood, 2015). Sometimes people in formal programs do not know what to do or discuss because they do not understand the program’s purpose. This discussion suggests that networked approaches should be designed and structured to support the participating members’ learning needs. For example, a multiple-mentor approach involving new faculty should consider whether the skills of the mentors align well with the new faculty’s learning needs around teaching and research and enhanced confidence. Assigning two senior faculty members as mentors who excel in research but not teaching creates misalignment within the approach. In addition to structuring a program according to the audience’s needs, a learning-centric approach also underscores the need to overtly codify and communicate those needs at the onset and to all participants so that they can track protégé growth.

Next, I will describe the four approaches in greater detail along with other best practices needed for the approaches to succeed. Table 27.2 shows the four approaches in terms of their primary structure, aims, characteristics, and proposed timeframe and duration.

Approach #1: Multiple Mentors

In de Janasz and Sullivan’s (2004) article exhorting the value of multiple mentors in academia to support changing professorial careers, they assert that universities with formal programs could use them as one vehicle to support faculty development as a competitive advantage in the industry. Not only would strong mentoring contribute to greater retention and tenure rates, but also better work-life balance. That logic can extend beyond faculty to suggest that devising a multiple-mentor approach within a university can be a differentiator to attract students, staff, administrators, and faculty. Empirical research supports the idea that academic professionals can benefit from multiple mentors. In one study on assistant and associate professors at two research institutions, those who reported two or more mentors had significantly higher levels of subjective success and research productivity than did those with one or no mentors (van Eck Peluchette & Jeanquart, 2000). Research in the workplace also supports the value of multiple mentors in that they have been found to be associated with greater job satisfaction, commitment to the organization, and enhanced career expectations, among other positive outcomes (Baugh & Scandura, 1999). These studies suggest the value of multiple mentors for faculty and staff. A study on undergraduate research found that a closed triad, in which an undergraduate was mentored by both a postgraduate and faculty member wherein all three interacted directly, offered uniquely valuable benefits to the undergraduates (Aiken et al., 2016). Interacting with both postgraduates and faculty simultaneously led to high gains in thinking and working like a scientist. Taken together, these and other studies showcase the benefits that can accrue to academic settings that undertake a multiple-mentor approach.

Extending the discussion above, an undergraduate multiple-mentor approach for all undergraduates could become a differentiator to attract students, alleviate the pressure for faculty to meet all of their students’ growth needs, and provide students with access to multiple sources of individuals for support. Imagine a university that distinguishes itself in the higher education marketplace on the basis of taking a multiple-mentor approach to support its students. Consider the possibility of two or more mentors, up to a foursome, for a particular student that includes a faculty advisor, career counselor, student support center professional, and business professional mentor that help for the duration of the student’s studies. Faculty advisors can play a number of roles in student development beyond the one they play in the classroom. Faculty members can help advise the student on class schedules (and may formally be required to play the role of advisor), discuss burgeoning career interests, ask questions to help the student engage in career exploration, and affirm the student’s growth and success in courses. A complement to faculty assistance could be a designated member of the career center who can also support the student protégé in career exploration and networking opportunities, engage students in formalized career self-assessment, and provide access to internships. A designated member of the student services team can engage students with mental health issues, support for disabilities and course problems, and provide options for additional support across campus and outside of it. A business professional—an alumni or someone connected to the university in some capacity—could engage the student in conversations that allow them to learn about leadership and discipline-related challenges and opportunities in practice, and be a sounding board for other matters the student might face as they enter their career. Notably, career center and student support professionals are on campus and available to students. The difference with a networked approach is that they are assigned individual student protégés and identify themselves as part of a networked team that provides a personalized education. In the absence of this explicit approach, students may never reap the benefit of the developmental assistance they can provide.

Investing in a multiple-mentor approach involves time and other resources. It may require a program coordinator or team to support the effort, depending upon the size of the participant pool, training, and other resources required to make it successful. The approach might be implemented university-wide, with all students experiencing a formalized multiple-mentor approach, or at the college or department level. A business college, for example, might opt to enhance faculty engagement from student advisors to student mentors, playing a greater role in students’ success and engaging business professionals commensurate with the number of students in each business major to have two mentors per student.

Research on formal mentoring programs underscores the importance of training, input into the match, and volunteerism in programs (Parise & Forret, 2008). Mentors and protégés should be trained on the expectations associated with their roles (e.g., on what assistance mentors can provide, protégés should be the ones to proactively reach out to initiate contact) and how often to meet. Mentors can be taught coaching skills, such as how to ask probing questions and take a balanced approach to allowing students to solve their own problems with offering suggestions. Protégés can be taught the importance of the types of topics they can raise to mentors, questions to ask for assistance, and follow-up after receiving advice. Importantly, the university/college/department should codify role responsibilities to avoid issues that can occur wherein a protégé receives conflicting information from mentors (Baugh & Scandura, 1999). That possibility is unavoidable and perhaps even desirable for protégé students to have multiple perspectives, but having some sense of mentor roles would provide some degree of clarity for engagement. Moreover, the approach would benefit from mentors and their protégés occasionally meeting together as a “closed triad” (or some other number affiliated with the size of the mentor group) to signal investment and commitment to the proteges’ growth (Aiken et al., 2016).

Ideally there should be an opportunity for protégés to request involvement from particular faculty or other possible mentors they are already acquainted with, because input into the match is desirable to support chemistry and liking between the mentor and protégé. In addition, whenever possible, asking for volunteer mentors will ensure greater likelihood that mentors will have the willingness and time to commit to their protégés. Given the demands of faculty careers, providing some type of monetary or other incentive and formally recognizing the efforts of the mentors, potentially through their annual appraisals and other means, will support commitment and motivation as well. Lastly, the group or administrator executing the approach should consider some criteria for matching protégés and mentors. At minimum, for student protégés, consideration should be given to matching them with professionals with experience that aligns with their majors.

A multiple-mentor networked approach has a number of benefits, including the ability to partner complementary mentors who can provide support directly relevant to the protégé. Mentors who volunteer likely have an affinity for and willingness to mentor, naturally creating greater prospects for success. The approach does require substantive investment to locate suitable mentors and match them well with protégés. It also is unlikely to meet all of the protégés’ needs, as people have multifaceted, complex, and even sensitive needs, and even skillful mentors can only meet so many of them.

Approach #2: Developmental Networks

A developmental network approach poses a strong opportunity for students, faculty, and staff to proactively shape their own networks to meet their career and learning needs during their careers and academic programming, respectively. Developmental networks are “people who take an active interest in and action to advance a focal person’s career” (Higgins & Kram, 2001, p. 268). In academia, that focal person might be a faculty member, student, administrator, or staff member. This approach involves systematically educating the target audience toward shaping a network during the program and beyond it that meets members’ needs. Importantly, developers can be seniors; juniors; peers; colleagues outside of a university, including from an occupational-affiliated organization; someone in the community; a spiritual or religious organization; a family member; someone in an alumni group; or someone else. Each of the “social spheres” from which the developers stem represents an opportunity for the focal person (the protégé) to gain diverse perspectives and uniquely needed support. One developer might provide psychosocial support, while another might provide career support. Some developers might provide a significant ongoing amount of support while others provide relatively little or infrequent support.

Studies on developmental networks show strong support for their value in various settings. High-performing individuals tend to have more extensive, diverse networks with varied and higher levels of support (Cotton et al., 2011). The number of developers a person has is positively associated with job satisfaction, promotions, and retention (e.g., Kirchmeyer, 2005; Higgins & Thomas, 2001). A few studies have directly examined or signaled the positive impact of developmental networks in academic settings. For example, one study explored faculty at different career stages and found that faculty with more sizable advice networks within their overall developmental networks had greater career and job satisfaction (van Emmerik, 2004). In spite of the positive value of larger, more diverse networks, research has shown that developmental networks are not “one size fits all” but rather dependent upon the focal person’s needs. Much of finding a “person-network fit” is for the focal person/protégé to understand their unique needs and then consider which individuals, known or unknown, can help provide support to meet those needs.

As an example, a new faculty member has many needs that must be met in order for that member to thrive. (Table 27.2 notes those learning needs.) The faculty member needs to acclimate successfully into the university through learning the ropes, its culture and history, and how to navigate it; strengthen research and teaching skills; meet fellow colleagues and begin to feel accepted as a member of the university; and generally develop confidence as a new academic. A university with a formalized program that educates faculty on the power of proactively shaping developmental networks to meet those needs better equips new faculty for success. For example, a new assistant professor, armed with knowledge about the power of developmental networks, might build relationships with two other newly-minted professors inside or outside the university as peer developers in order to craft strategies to navigate research requirements for tenure and spend time together writing and sharing new teaching pedagogies. The professor could also build a relationship with a senior colleague with long-standing institutional knowledge to better understand the university culture and how to adequately publish to secure tenure. The professor’s spouse could serve as a sounding board for work-life balance issues and sensitive situations with other colleagues. The network should align with that new faculty member’s unique needs, as well as those common to all new academics.

A developmental network approach in a university could be aimed at students, faculty, staff, or administration. It is a low-cost approach relative to a traditional mentoring program in terms of time and resources needed to administer it (Chandler et al., 2010). An approach that targets undergraduate students could be embedded in a career development course taken by all freshmen or sophomores. As part of the module on networks, students could fill out a developmental network questionnaire such as the one created by Monica Higgins (2004) as an initial assessment of their networks, and then they would be educated on what types of support they can receive during their education and over time. The module should incorporate a thorough discussion on networks, including their structure—diversity and strength of tie—positive outcomes associated with them, undergraduate learning needs, and numerous examples of developers inside (e.g., a staff member) and outside the university (e.g., a family friend in a career of inspiration to the student) and the support they could provide. Students could be encouraged or required to engage in “mentoring episodes,” one-time interactions with existing or could-be developers for support (Fletcher & Ragins, 2007). For example, students could be asked to converse in detail with a parent about potential career options and how they could align with their strengths and interests they have shown over time. They might reach out to a successful professional in their family’s social network about how that person views leadership and has taken action to be successful. Ideally, this approach would include a broad-reaching education of networks among the faculty and staff to encourage ongoing conversations during students’ entire studies about their networks, mentoring episodes, and the learning that is occurring.

As noted, a developmental network approach is amenable to all internal university stakeholders. During new faculty orientation, new faculty could similarly fill out a network questionnaire to assess the relative strength of their networks and then discuss how to create informal alliances broadly within the university and outside of it. Also, during the orientation, new faculty could mutually engage each other in mentoring episodes about their career aspirations and ongoing questions about research and teaching. A new faculty orientation program that occurs over a duration of 3 months or more could embed a formal component around networks that involves having faculty share their successful mentoring episodes together over time as a means to encourage relational learning.

Formalized university approaches that leverage developmental networks are few at this point. One exception occurred in a Midwest law school. In recognizing the unique pressures of a legal career, the school partnered with the area’s bar association to simultaneously explore formal mentoring dyadic pairings between a law student, a practicing attorney, and a network approach requiring law students to gain support from a network of attorneys through mentoring episodes (Johnson et al., 2013). Law students were trained on developmental networks and mentoring episodes as a means to either gain a number of one-time relational support interactions or nurture ongoing relationships that would evolve into developmental ones.

The study found that law students in the mentoring episode and network group were more likely than the matched pairs to report having discussions with someone with content expertise in an area of interest because they reached out to people with experience they found interesting. In addition, the participants reported that the strengths of their program included meeting a variety of their needs and topical discussions of interest, improvement in their ability to reach out to attorneys and non-attorneys to listen and learn, the variety of contacts they made, and the flexibility of being able to continue to nurture a relationship or no longer pursue it. One can envision these benefits playing out with all academic audiences in people being able to pursue their own developmental path with a variety of individuals inside and outside a university.

The challenges and weaknesses of a developmental network approach relative to matched mentoring were found in the law school study. Participants reported less motivation to engage relative to matched participants because of introversion or shyness. They experienced less trust because most of the network reach-outs were with people they did not know, prohibiting more sensitive conversations. In addition, some participants discussed not knowing whom to reach out to. These challenges can arguably be overcome with a strong training program for participants with numerous examples of types of developers and possible support. Should a program involve undergraduate or graduate students, creating support structures with their primary advisor or career counselors on campus can assist students who are struggling with whom to contact and what to ask.

Approach #3: Group (Co-)Mentoring

Group mentoring provides universities with another relatively low investment opportunity to support all of its major participant groups. It could be formalized by the university for various groups, as would be the case for recently tenured associate professors in relation to support as they move to full professor, or encouraged as an informal opportunity for groups to support each other. As noted earlier, group mentoring can take different structural shapes, such as peer group mentoring (PGM), one-to-many mentoring (OTMM), and many-to-many mentoring (MTMM). Someone aspiring to create a group mentoring program could search using a number of related terms, such as collaborating mentoring, mentoring circles, mentoring communities, and team mentoring (Huizing, 2012), to better understand how it has been used in practice.

Unlike developmental network approaches, which are underutilized in higher education, group mentoring has been leveraged to a greater degree as a learning vehicle. Group mentoring may offer unique advantages that occur when multiple peers interact simultaneously for learning, such as inclusiveness, widened personal networks, a safe place to discuss challenges, team spirit and skill development, friendship, and shared knowledge among them (Limbert, 1995). They do this through the provision of psychosocial and career-related support that peers are uniquely situated to provide each other—such as job networking, affirmation, understanding a school’s political climate, and publishing/research support—and teaching pedagogical strategizing among them.

PGM, which involves three or more people simultaneously mentoring each other, has been examined and used in a number of academic settings with different participant groups, including but not limited to female nursing students, teachers and faculty, and graduate library students (Glass & Walter, 2000; Level & Mach, 2005). One successful example of PGM in academia involves a group of four doctoral students and a professor, wherein the group predominantly operated as a peer group with some professorial input at times (Hadjioannou et al., 2007). The group found positive benefits of their self-regulated engagement around a number of issues pertaining to being a doctoral student, participating in the academic community and academic discourse, and enhanced writing capability.

MTMM involves multiple protégés in groups being mentored concurrently by more than one mentor. As an example of the effectiveness of MTMM, Allen et al. (1997) examined 68 first-time MBA students allocated in groups of five with two to three second-year MBA students from the same institution as mentors for a 10-week period. They found that student personal and professional development hinged on satisfaction within the mentoring relationships and the quality of their interactions (not the quantity of time together).

Group mentoring can bring great value when people with similar careers within an organization are brought together to share stories and challenges and converse about strategies to succeed, all within a psychologically safe environment. Given the importance of an environment where people can be open and vulnerable, the group should ideally discuss norms of engagement and a “whatever is said here, stays here” group climate. Should people worry about confidentiality, they are less inclined to participate fully and reap the benefits of group mentoring. In a formalized setting, a facilitator or the self-structured group should identify particular objectives and topics of discussion relevant to its members’ growth. In that respect, discussions can be tailored to the group’s aspirations, heightening motivation to attend and participate. Members should be sure to give proper airtime to everyone and maybe at times include an agenda that participants can give input to. Finally, the group should establish each time how frequently it will meet and for how long so that its members can attend.

Group mentoring is a flexible mode of relational support due to its different forms. While a peer group for staff might be most sensible, student group mentoring may require a facilitator such as a professor or professional staff member to ensure a meaningful discussion. It requires some degree of accountability on the part of members to support each other. It also requires group members to consciously engage in high-quality connection behaviors, such as vulnerability and openness, and ask questions to allow each member to reflect on their challenges and opportunities (Ragins, 2016). One limitation of peer group mentoring is that because members are generally of equal status and knowledge, the group may at times lack expert input and suggestions needed to help propel their growth.

Approach #4: Hybrid Approach

While any one of the three preceding approaches can provide strong value to its participants, a university/department/college should evaluate its target audience’s needs and whether a given approach can meet all of them. Combining approaches in a complementary fashion may allow the greatest growth for participants. For example, three new faculty might each be assigned two senior faculty mentors to help them learn the university and college cultures, to navigate tenure expectations, to strategize how to meet research requirements, and to act in a group mentoring capacity with each other for friendship, affirmation, peer feedback on research manuscripts, and sharing teaching strategies.

A developmental network approach as a complement to any one of the other three approaches offers the unique advantage of empowering protégé groups to create their own mentoring opportunities inside and outside the university based on their individualized needs. In this way, protégé groups do not need to lean excessively on more senior faculty, who may be juggling numerous other responsibilities. If protégés are taught to emphasize numerous mentoring episodes in which they invite single faculty members to coffee or lunch to ask them growth-related questions, protégé groups may find the approach refreshing and less time-consuming than if they were formally paired with mentors.

Other Best Practices to Shape The University’s Approach

Academic careers are arguably becoming increasingly complex and varied, which can be exciting for faculty but also quite stressful. The higher education landscape is becoming more competitive, pushing universities to differentiate in ways that impact faculty’s jobs. No longer just the demanding trifecta of teaching, research, and service, faculty are asked to engage in the community, public relations, recruiting, and other activities to support enrollment and retention. Technological shifts that support online learning have required professors to gain competencies in virtual and asynchronous teaching. Faculty and doctoral student learning demands have heightened, which presents an opportunity for networked learning to support them. The heightened competition presents an opportunity for universities to leverage mentoring networked approaches to attract students, staff, and faculty, all of whom can benefit from an environment of employee development. A university could support broad-based networked approaches that impact undergraduates and graduates, as well as faculty and staff, by dedicating marketing efforts to publicize networked mentoring as a differentiator. Students who come on campus could be introduced to prospective mentors, and both campus tours and the matriculation orientation efforts could endorse it as part of the overall education.

Crucially, universities need to have a formalized and concerted overall effort toward any one of these approaches. Incentives for mentoring through overtly incorporating mentoring into tenure requirements and yearly appraisals would be a crucial step, as faculty are often educated to eschew any activities that go beyond teaching, research, and basic service early on. Research has shown that organizational support for mentoring (Eby et al., 2006) matters to the extent that people provide it. If university senior leadership teams and college deans publicly recognize and speak about the importance of mentoring, then it is more apt to become a value that faculty and staff act upon. Grants for mentorship, which enable hiring a program director and potentially offer faculty stipends, align with mentoring emerging across a university. Educating senior leadership on its positive values and the different networked approaches is one step in facilitating a mentoring culture. Creating a high-facilitation pilot program and collecting pre- and post-measures for it can provide some early support for a larger-scale intervention, particularly in resource-constrained environments. Universities tend to have cooperative climates and, as they move toward more significant efforts for diversity, equity, and inclusion, are well-positioned to lead networked approach efforts relative to the business sector. It is important for universities to move toward equitable access and inclusion, hiring diverse faculty and staff so that women, students of color, and minorities have demographic role models in formal networked programs and in their informal efforts to reach out for relational learning.

Discussion and Future Research

As of yet, universities have not harnessed the full power of networked mentoring approaches for their major stakeholders. It may be that universities are unaware of the networked literature, given that most popular press discussions and formal corporate mentoring programs emphasize one mentoring relationship. However, as the field of mentoring has been reconceived over time as one wherein a protégé gains developmental support from a variety of sources, networked approaches are likely to gain traction over time. A university, college, or department leader has plenty of empirical support available for the broader value of mentoring and the positive benefits of strong developmental networks to make the business case for investment in these alternative approaches. As has been argued, universities can utilize networked approaches as differentiators for hiring and retaining faculty and staff and as attractors to students who aspire to an individualized education. When programs are formalized, it is important for program directors or others charged with developing them to take a learning outcome-focused approach to provide a honed opportunity for participants. In environments whose mission is centrally to enhance and inspire learning, maximizing relational learning through networked mentoring should be part of the academic experience.

Fully capitalizing on networked mentoring approaches will require some degree of institutional change on the part of universities—either incremental or more transformational, depending upon the scope and scale of networked implementation. For example, embedding a module on mentoring networks into a freshman course requires less change than would seeking institutional differentiation based on mentoring at the university level. The latter could involve hiring multiple program directors for different student groups, marketing and public relations campaigns to raise awareness with the public and with prospective students, education at the senior leadership level on an institutional shift toward relational learning, recruitment of business leaders as developers, and other investments. Universities that undertake this more significant shift need to create a concerted change plan, engage all impacted stakeholders to gain input and communicate to them early and often, and create at the onset a business case for mentoring as an investment for differentiation. It is advisable to leverage institutional change models and frameworks such as Kotter’s eight-stage model (2012) to help those who lead the effort to be conscientious about executing the effort. Two-thirds of change efforts fail (Kotter, 2012). Leaders who realize this and the barriers that lead to change can be more proactive to create effective programs and institutionalize mentoring across their universities. For example, knowing that a sense of urgency must be created at the onset of the change wherein most senior university leaders believe that implementing networked approaches is more advantageous than doing nothing, mentoring network leaders can begin their efforts by targeting senior leaders who allocate resources to make the business case for mentoring as a differentiator.

From a research perspective, developmental network research in academic settings remains relatively rare when compared to business settings, which has shown strong support for their value. Multiple-mentoring research has similarly received somewhat limited attention. Group mentoring has received greater attention and is still in the formative stages as mostly case studies, interviews, journal reflection analysis, and focus group transcripts, as qualitative approaches are the dominant method of scrutiny. This makes sense as theory is being generated. The field, however, is ripe for more larger-scale survey studies and longitudinal mixed methods, which can move the field toward a more robust understanding of causality and a nomological network of relevant variables.

Table 27.1

“Beginning With the End In Mind”: Network Approach Learning Aims

Potential approach learning aims Personal learning and competency development aims
New faculty
  • Socialization into university culture, history, campus logistics
  • Support meeting new colleagues
  • Skill development in teaching and research
  • Enhanced confidence in navigating an academic career
  • Clarity around research projects, services, teaching pedagogies that resonate with one’s identity (knowing why)
Assistant and associate faculty
  • Further skill development in teaching and research
  • Skill development in non-research areas such as service and administration
  • Navigating tenure-related progress
  • Managing difficult conversations with peers and senior colleagues
  • Updated knowledge of new pedagogies and technologies
  • Development of skills such as consulting and community-interfacing engagement
  • Clarity around choices that resonate with identity (knowing why)
Doctoral students
  • Increased knowledge of scientific methods and discipline-based knowledge
  • Connectedness to other students and faculty
  • Knowledge regarding academic and nonacademic career paths available to those with doctoral degrees
  • Ability to publish in peer-reviewed journals, books, and popular press outlets
  • Ability to teach
Undergraduate students
  • Knowledge about major-related career paths
  • General career exploration
  • Enhanced professional competence and identity
  • Enhanced self-esteem
  • Connectedness to peers, faculty, and staff
  • Identification with college life and the institution
  • Strengthened general education subject and major-related knowledge
  • Socialization into university culture, history, campus logistics
  • Support meeting new colleagues
  • Growing job-related competencies needed to excel
  • Supporting and representing the department with interdependent ones

Table 27.2

Four Networked Approaches Amenable to Academic Settings

Approach Multiple mentors Developmental networks Group mentoring Hybrid
Structure Protégé assigned more than one mentor Protégé educated to shape developmental network to suit growth needs Groups of relative peers who meet to assist each other Combination of developmental networks and either multiple mentors or group mentoring
Aim Enhance protégé growth and learning through two mentors with complementary perspectives and capabilities Empower protégé to meet growth needs autonomously Provide peer learning within an egalitarian group of equals Boost protégé learning through multiple methods, one aimed at self-empowerment and the other through provision of relational support
Characteristics More learned mentors and junior protégé Protégé shaped “group of people who take an active interest in and action to shape protégé’s growth.” Protégés learn through thoughtful discussions about common challenges and opportunities Protégé has support from assigned more learned mentors and is encouraged to proactively shape a network that meets growth needs
Best timeframe for onset Matriculation or hire Matriculation or hire or at a designated point (e.g., a class) Matriculation, hire, or as opportunities arise Matriculation or hire or at a designated point (e.g., a class)
Duration Between 3 months and 2 years Throughout education and beyond Three months to several years Throughout education and beyond


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