As part of National Mentoring Month this January, our Director of Student Mentor Services shares his expertise on the most effective ways to serve as a mentor.

During my many years advising mentors, I’ve spent a good deal of time helping ease mentors into the role and relationship with their students. In many cases, things just weren’t clicking and they couldn’t seem to connect meaningfully…yet. From the other side, I’ve had some new parents and students ask, with a puzzled look, “What is a mentor for?”

To help clarify the purpose and role of a mentor, I created a list of top mentor qualities. This list has helped mentors reframe their approach to mentoring and helped get things clicking in the relationship.

Here are seven ways to understand how to be a mentor: 


  1. Be A Coach

The coach approach to mentoring, as in basketball, takes a broader, long-term view of the end goal. Coaches look to a winning season, not one missed basket in a game. Coaches lead practice and training to build habits and skills to obtain success in the future.


  1. Be An Advocate

An advocate intervenes and supports by stepping in when necessary — instead of leaving everything to the student to navigate. A mentor may contact our foundation team to share good news about a student, to alert us about a bad grade the student received or to let us know if the student is nervous about asking for academic help. Advocating is about jumping in so your mentee never feels alone.


  1. Be A Role Model

Actions speak louder than words. While some mentors are nervous about keeping their flaws under wraps when they are with their mentee, you owe your mentee to give him or her a straight answer. If you want to remain worthy of your mentee’s trust, you need to talk about your flaws and encourage your mentee to learn by your example.


  1. Be A Friend

Be there for your mentee. Listen. If there is a big age difference between mentor and mentee, it might feel a little odd to talk about a friendship, but being available to listen is one of the most important parts of being a good friend.


  1. Be An Advisor

An advisor doesn’t dictate behavior, but instead directs a student to examine a situation, consider all the options and arrive at a well-thought-out solution on his or her own. For example, an advisor would not tell a student specifically what classes to sign up for, but rather help him or her look at and consider which courses provide better preparation for college.


  1. Be A Self-Esteem Builder

Self-doubt can be a terrible force in anyone’s life. Building self-esteem isn’t so much a matter of throwing out compliments as it is helping someone search for and recognize their strengths. Encourage your mentee to be proud of who they are and what they’re good at. Confidence is key to success.


  1. Be A Career Counselor

Most students change their minds about interest in different majors and careers throughout high school. Many adults change careers throughout their working lives, too. Sometimes the best career counseling is suggesting your mentee go out and try something new: an internship, a job shadow experience, or a volunteer opportunity.


Click below for information about Give Back’s Mentoring Program:



kevino_1-bwOur very own Director of Student Mentor Services, Kevin O’Donnell, shares his expertise about how mentors can make an impact. O’Donnell has a degree in Social Work and Masters in Leadership Studies. He has over 20 years of experience working with students at the college level, from his time as a Campus Minister, Director of Young Adult and Youth Ministry, and even as a Professor at both Elmhurst College and Lewis University.