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Two mentoring programs, the SHADES cross-cultural graduate student mentoring program and the HUES LGBT+ student mentoring program, are the newest initiatives in the Graduate College’s professional development portfolio.
With a focus on examining the connections between personal and professional identity, these mentoring programs promote community-building and foster cultural and academic diversity, engagement, and inclusion while building on the Graduate College’s mandate to help graduate students become transformative leaders and master learners.
“Mentoring is incredibly important to graduate student success,” said Zachary Reeves-Blurton, program manager for mentoring initiatives and professional development engagement at the Graduate College. “Nationwide, we have retention issues, particularly at the doctoral level. Overwhelmingly, psychosocial support mentoring has been identified by successful doctoral candidates as a key element to degree persistence and completion.”
This makes sense, Reeves-Blurton continued, when you consider the many pressures and challenges graduate students face.
“Particularly when we are considering students from underrepresented minority backgrounds – such as our first-generation, ethnic minority and LGBT students – we are looking at situations in which serious perceived social isolation can become a significant challenge,” Reeves-Blurton said.
For many graduate students, the social and community-building opportunities available to undergraduate students are less accessible, due either to time commitments or shifting interests. Many of the student organizations and social outlets popular with undergraduate students, for instance, do not resonate as strongly with graduate students.
The rigors of academic programs and research can be barriers to social connection at the graduate level as well.
“The graduate student experience can be a very insular one,” Reeves-Blurton said.
Many graduate programs are shifting toward cohort-based models. While rich in opportunity to foster deeper relationships between cohort members, this model can be socially challenging if a student represents a minority population within the group.
The SHADES and HUES mentoring programs are designed specifically with engagement and inclusion in mind, and focus on offering spaces in which students from underrepresented minority populations might explore the intersections of their academic and interpersonal identities among those with common cultural or identity markers and backgrounds.
They provide a forum for students to embrace and discuss the roles of identity in academia and everyday life, to seek out peers with shared social or cultural identities, and to explore the connections between identity, learning and public discourse.
SHADES, first launched in 2002 by Dr. Sydella Blatch with the intention of fostering connection among African-American women in the male-dominated science and engineering (STEM) fields, re-launches this fall with a focus on exploring the importance of cross-cultural dialogue and inclusion within the academy.
HUES, launching with a small pilot program this fall, addresses the needs of community-building and identity-development among the university’s LGBT student community.
“Our LGBT students, particularly at an institution as large as ASU, are among our most disconnected and therefore academically vulnerable student populations,” Reeves-Blurton said. “The benefits of community-building and identity-based mentoring have been demonstrated to be particularly effective in building engagement and identity affirmation among this demographic.”
Both the SHADES and HUES programs are structured, multi-modal programs. During their first semester in the program, participants meet one-on-one with a mentor selected through a careful matching process. In the second semester, one-on-one meetings are augmented with small-group facilitated discussions that provide a forum for students to begin building larger social support networks.
During both semesters, supplemental experience by way of personal and cultural development programs and social mixers allow students to become more fully connected within their communities, to explore identity as a construct in society and to learn from the support and experiences of their peers.
The SHADES program is open only to graduate students and post-doctoral scholars. The HUES program is open to any currently-enrolled LGBT undergraduate or graduate student at ASU. However, HUES does encourage LGBT faculty and staff to apply as mentors.
“These are incredibly exciting programs for us to be starting up here,” Reeves-Blurton said. “Meeting with prospective mentors and mentees, working with these students for the past year as we’ve developed the programs and really made sure we are best tailoring these opportunities to fit the needs of our students, has been challenging, but really rewarding.”
SHADES and HUES are currently soliciting applications for both mentors and mentees. For more information on the programs or application processes, contact the Graduate College at GradMentor@asu.edu.