Practice Good Advising and Mentoring

"Mentoring and advising are crucial. Robust models must be scalable and not dependent upon a single individual. They must allow us to capitalize more effectively on the relationships that individuals have developed and the cultural competence developed in different parts of our community. Success will also require development of more cultural competence on the part of advisers, mentors, and faculty." -- From Workshop Synthesis, Broadening Access to the Earth and Environmental Sciences, February 2014

SOARS protege and mentors
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SOARS Mentor Julie Caron, protégé Manuel Hernandez and mentor Joseph Tribbia (left to right).[creative commons]
Provenance: Rebecca Haacker-Santos, UCAR
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Advising and mentoring are critical parts of retaining students in STEM programs and producing graduates who are ready for their next step, whether it be transitioning to the workforce or going on to further study. Students, particularly those from non-traditional backgrounds, may be discouraged from continuing in a program if they encounter barriers to their progress without strong guidance for how to go through, over, or around those barriers. Academic advising and faculty mentoring provide mechanisms to encourage students to persist, connect them with opportunities in their discipline, and help them identify support systems to enable them be successful.

It is important to note that advising and mentoring are not the same. As Schlosser and Gelso (2001) put it:

"Advisors and mentors are not synonymous. One can be an advisor without being a mentor and certainly one can be a mentor to someone without being that person's advisor. It appears that far more students have advisors than mentors."

Advising relationships are often focused on the nuts-and-bolts issues related to navigating a program of study or a campus community. This kind of technical guidance can be performed by someone in the department or a professional academic advisor elsewhere at the institution. By contrast, a mentoring relationship involves a faculty member or other professional in the discipline providing their protege with "knowledge, advice, counsel, challenge, and support in the protege's pursuit of becoming a full member in a particular profession" (Johnson, 2007). Naturally, some successful advising relationships can deepen into mentorships but not all will. Both advising and mentoring are important in student retention and progress and there are particular considerations associated with doing each well.

What does good advising look like? »

Hint: It's more than setting them up with a degree plan and course scheduling.

What does successful mentoring look like? »

Hint: It's more than supervising them in the lab or field.

How Advising and Mentoring Support the Whole Student: Capacity and Continuity

From Jolly et al. (2004):

"The underlying assumption of Capacity is that there is fundamental knowledge that is necessary to advance to more rigorous or advanced levels." (p. 6)

"Ideally [Continuity] is a fully articulated system where the skills, knowledge and information students need to move to advanced levels are known and are provided at each earlier, less advanced level." (p. 7)

Viewed in this context both advising and mentoring each contribute to aspects of the Whole Student Model of supporting student success.

Capacity is often thought of in the context of content knowledge in STEM disciplines. But helping students understand the mechanics of successfully navigating the campus environment and completing a degree or developing their own identity as a STEM professional is also building their capacity to be successful. These are things that good advising and effective mentoring help students do.

Unlike capacity, which tends to focus on what the student can do, continuity deals with the institutional and programmatic systems that are in place to support them as they progress. Educator knowledge and quality, availability of out-of-school programs, and the availability of necessary coursework are examples of factors that affect continuity. Good advising and mentoring programs are also integral to this support system. Advising is critical in helping students to articulate and achieve their academic goals and make progress toward their degree. Opportunities for mentoring offer the deeper psychosocial support that can assist students in becoming members of the community of practice they are aiming for.


Alan T.D. and L.T. Eby (Eds) (2007). The Blackwell Handbook of Mentoring: A Multiple Perspectives Approach. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. 496 p.

Cunningham, L. A. (2003). Multicultural awareness. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources (retrieved April 2014):

Harding, B. (2012). Advising Students of Color. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources (retrieved April 2014):

Hatton, A., S. Homer, and L. Park (2009). Advising Transfer Students. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources (retrieved July 2014):

Johnson, W. Brad (2007). On Being a Mentor: A Guide for Higher Education Faculty. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum Associates, Publishers. 260 p.

McGill, C.M. and D.L. Woudenberg (2012). Gender matters in STEM majors! Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources (retrieved April 2014):

Moorhead, C. (2005). Advising lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students in higher education. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources (retrieved April 2014):

Nutt, Charlie L. (2003). Academic advising and student retention and persistence. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources (retrieved April 2014):

Schlosser, L.Z. and C.J. Gelso (2001). Measuring the working alliance in advisor-advisee relationships in graduate school. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 48, 157-167.

Sickles, A.R. (2004). Advising first-generation students. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources (retrieved April 2014):

Walsh, P. (2003). Advising At-risk Students. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources (retrieved April 2014):