Online Mentorship: A Worthwhile Investment

Mentorship can take various forms and serve numerous goals, however, McKinsey (2016) summarized the many definitions succinctly by stating that to mentor “is to provide wise advice and instruction (p. 26).” 

One might wonder why mentorship programs are so frequently implemented by corporations, schools, and other community entities. The answer is likely because there is so much empirical support for the benefits of a mentor/mentee relationship (Eby, Allen, Evans, Ng, & DuBois, 2008; Simpson, Hastings, & Hill, 2007). Each mentoring dyad is unique as it involves a dynamic relationship between two individuals, and so, mentors may be engaging in numerous roles including advising, critiquing, supporting, challenging, encouraging, inspiring, or becoming role models (McKinsey, 2016). Despite the uniqueness of these relationships, many empirical studies have generalized the benefits of mentoring across these heterogeneous relationships. Specifically, faculty-student mentoring relationships led to positive outcomes for students in the areas of health, motivation, career, goal-setting, problem-solving, and having a positive educational experience (Cosgrove, 1986; Eby et al., 2008; Kardash, 2000; Pascarella, Wolniak, Seifert, Cruce, & Blaich, 2005). For example, Kendricks, Nedunuri, and Arment (2013) demonstrated that mentoring undergraduate students in a STEM-focused program contributed positively to students’ academic success (GPA) and increased retention rates. Additionally, Ferrari (2007) found that undergraduate students who had both life mentors and school mentors perceived themselves to have more support compared to students who only had a life mentor or no mentor.

During the unprecedented times of COVID-19, virtual relationships are ubiquitous, but it may be more challenging to start new relationships virtually, so developing new professor-to-student mentorships has become more difficult. Prior to the pandemic, a student could seek faculty mentorship quite easily by simply walking into a professor’s office hours. Now, with limited access to campus, some students may find themselves unable to acquire the mentorship they desire (or require) in spite of monumental efforts by many institutions to provide continued connections. One virtual relationship-building initiative is the online platform, Ten Thousand Coffees. It is through this platform that Tyler Snyder (fourth-year psychology student at the University of Windsor) met Dr. Lynne Kennette, University of Windsor alumni (2005) and current psychology professor at Durham College. Although online mentorship can be attained through numerous avenues, we recount our experience with this particular product.

Creating connections with Ten Thousand Coffees

Ten Thousand Coffees (Ten Thousand Coffees, n.d.) is a virtual community platform that helps organizations form various types of relationships among their employees: mentorship, collaboration, career planning, knowledge sharing. For institutions of higher education, Ten Thousand Coffees connects students and alumni “for inspiring career conversations” (Ten Thousand Coffees, n.d.). Although neither of us had heard of this platform before joining, we received invitations from the University of Windsor to join the community, and we both signed up. We receive a new introduction monthly, and eventually, we were introduced to each other.

Faculty perspective

Although Anderson and Shore (2008) propose that faculty have little to gain from mentoring undergraduate students, that has not been my experience, nor the experience of many others (e.g., McKinsey, 2016). It may be the case that faculty do gain fewer benefits from the mentoring relationship than do the students, but there are real advantages to becoming a mentor.

There are obvious professional benefits to mentoring students as many faculty positions encourage service and mentorship for career advancement (many even require it). So, there can most definitely be a tangible, extrinsic benefit to mentoring undergraduate students. However, the most significant benefits are intangible. For me, the motivation is primarily intrinsic. By mentoring, faculty can share their wealth of knowledge and experience with students, reflect on their academic journey, and impart their wisdom and lessons learned to their mentees. Equally as important, faculty can help students develop their critical thinking and information literacy skills, as well as consider work-life balance as they think about their future choices. Faculty can also have more in-depth conversations with their mentees about the realities that their generation is facing and learn about new trends or social norms (e.g., new social media platforms, expressions, etc). This may allow faculty to be more current with their classroom material, better able to reach students with relevant teaching materials and examples, and consequently, improve both their teaching and student learning.

Student perspective

After several online discussions spanning several weeks, I have found academic, professional, emotional, and social benefits from my mentor.

  1. Academic benefits. Having a familiarity with the University of Windsor, Dr. Kennette was able to offer unique insight. She notified me of lesser-known student grants which I have now applied for and taught me about research tools to use for writing academic papers. Additionally, she advised me on how to approach a professor to gain research experience and what research to do beforehand.
  2. Professional benefits. Dr. Kennette helped me clarify my career goals. When I was first introduced to Dr. Kennette through the platform, I had a rough idea of the direction I wanted to take for my career. She discussed her experience and explained the various aspects of life one should consider (e.g., work-life balance), which helped me realize the direction I wanted to pursue. Moreover, Dr. Kennette also opened doors for new professional experiences for me. If it were not for us connecting via Ten Thousand Coffees, I would not have had the opportunity to collaborate with her on this article, which may lead to additional future collaborations.
  3. Emotional benefits. As a first-generation university student, I cannot turn to my parents for mentorship as they have not experienced this part of my journey. Dr. Kennette was able to fill that gap and provide much-needed support, which in turn significantly reduced my anxiety. Corresponding online was also less intimidating than a “live” conversation because I could plan what I wanted to say and work on it until I was satisfied. Additionally, Dr. Kennette actively listened to the difficulties I was having and provided me with tailored advice. These variables resulted in reducing my overall stress level.
  4. Social benefits. Having her as a mentor has provided me with an opportunity to practice my writing skills. Being allowed to converse online with her has motivated me to ensure my writing is professional and has allowed me to observe the writing style of a published author. This also allowed me to pinpoint areas in which I need to improve. Additionally, Dr. Kennette has helped widen my social network by connecting me with other like-minded individuals from my institution.

This article has proposed that online mentorship is beneficial to both faculty and students. We described our experience with a specific platform, which is an initiative that can provide overwhelming benefits to students during this global pandemic and has the potential to be applied across a wide variety of institutions and disciplines. If it is not available for your university, many schools offer mentorship programs, or students can seek out a mentorship through other platforms such as LinkedIn. Our mentorship experience has been a truly positive one, and we propose that seeking mentorship and support virtually can be immensely beneficial to both students and faculty.

Tyler Snyder is currently finishing his bachelor of arts in psychology at the University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

Lynne N. Kennette is a professor of psychology at Durham College (Oshawa, Ontario). She earned her PhD in cognitive psychology from Wayne State University (Detroit, MI) and has varied research interests including language processing, bilingual language representation, memory, and numerous other topics related to teaching and learning.


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