Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Two Cultures Collide: Bridging the Generation Gap in a Non-Traditional Mentorship

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Two Cultures Collide: Bridging the Generation Gap in a Non-Traditional Mentorship

Article excerpt

Mentoring has been an accepted method of developing students for many centuries (Cohen, 1995). The word "mentor" can be traced to the Odyssey and derives from Odysseus' implicit trust in Mentor, to whom he delegated complete responsibility for raising his son Telemachus" (p. 1). Mentor performed all of the roles generally undertaken by the mentor in a traditional mentorship including coach, teacher, guardian, protector, and parent. Telemachus and Mentor had a deep personal relationship in which Mentor helped develop Telemachus' career (Johnson & Ridley, 2004). Mentoring is frequently used in workplace and academic settings to develop potential in employees and learners.

In most instances research on mentorships involved a traditional inter-generational mentorship (older mentor and younger mentee). However post-secondary institutions have experienced a rise in non-traditional student enrollment (NCES, n.d.) who are older and typically have a gap between their educational experiences. These learners present a different set of needs, motivations and goals that must be addressed within the mentoring relationship. At the same time, due to retirements among the older generation of professors and the appointment of younger professors to replace them, these institutions are experiencing a decrease in the median age of their instructional workforce. These younger mentors are faced with the unique challenge of developing praxis for mentoring their older students. The intersection of where the older generation of students meets the younger generation of professors in a mentoring relationship (a non-traditional intergenerational mentorship) is rarely explored in the literature but poses an issue of growing practical significance to the higher education community. Our purpose in conducting this study was to describe and better understand this intersection and explore how age as a cross-cultural trait impacted the development of our academic mentorship in a graduate school setting.

Literature Review

The extant literature on mentoring is wide and varied. Some researchers discuss the goals of mentoring, such as career advancement, psychosocial development, and maintaining and enhancing the mentee's quality of life (Anderson, 2005; Maher, Ford, & Thompson, 2004). Others have focused on types of mentoring such as peer mentoring which occurs when two persons of equal status mentor each other, and telementoring, which occurs via distance through the use of technological advances such as conference calling, email, or Skype (Guy, 2002; Hadjioannou, Shelton, Rankie, Fu & Dhanarattigannon, 2007; Packard, 2003). Still others have emphasized the importance of mentoring marginalized groups such as women (Duff, 1999; Gardiner, Enomoto, & Grogan, 2000; Wunch, 1994), and underrepresented racial minorities (Moody, 2004; Paterson & Hart-Wasekeesikaw, 1994). Literature on mentoring also exists within the contexts of higher education and the workplace (Dunbar & Kinnersley, 2011; Ishyama, 2007; Nora & Crisp, 2007).

The components of a successful mentorship seem to be the same, or at least similar, across a variety of populations and settings. For instance, in higher education, Ishiyama (2007) found that a successful mentorship for students in higher education included career support, academic/research support and a personal relationship which included listening to concerns (emotional support) and problem solving. These findings were supported by a series of studies with different populations (Crisp, 2009; Nora & Crisp, 2007) and in studies of mentoring in the workplace (Dunbar & Kinnersley, 2011; Hamilton, Hamilton, & Rhodes, 2002)

Within higher education, studies find that mentorships are contributors to the success of women students. Gardiner, Tiggeman, Kerans, and Marshall (2007) found that women who were mentored were more likely to complete their programs, receive more grant money and promotions, and have better self-concepts as academics than women who were not mentored. …

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