Symposium -- September 22-23, 2022

Mentoring Matters: Theological Explorations of Generational Transition and the Academic Vocation


Mentoring Matters: Millennials and the Future of the Academic Vocation


Nearly all colleges and universities informally highlight the value of mentoring, whether they claim to afford that experience to their students or to the newest members of their professional ranks. Admissions brochures tout the value of students spending time in conversation with faculty over coffee or working side-by-side on research. New faculty members are often recruited via the promise of regular access to senior colleagues ready to share their wisdom.

While perceptions of the value of mentoring are arguably ubiquitous, definitions of and organizational commitments to good mentoring are nearly non-existent. Perhaps for the very reason the value of mentoring is perceived to be self-evident, scholars, regardless of discipline, also pay little attention to debating the goals of mentoring, what practices allow for the achievement of those goals, and what challenges may emerge when those goals are not rightfully defined and honored.

For example, the results of a poll conducted by Gallup and released on January 24, 2019, demonstrated the link between student well-being and support from faculty. However, the summary of the results of that poll suggested, “supportive relationships with professors and mentors are significantly more common in certain fields of study – including arts and humanities – than others.” One challenge lurking within the details is the goal of mentoring went undefined and, as a result, the practices allowing that goal to be achieved went unnamed.

Ubiquitous perceptions of the value of mentoring are arguably even more pervasive on Christian college and university campuses than on the campuses of their so-called secular counterparts. The Christian commitment to extend hospitality, naming only one such commitment, creates environments where mentoring is an expected good. Its goals and attendant practices, however, are subjected to little to no critical reflection. As a result, the unquestioned nature of those assumptions raises the possibility that some mentoring practices may even be more harmful than beneficial. One needs to look no further for evidence of harmful mentoring relationships than the non-fraternization policies colleges and universities are putting into place.

In addition, sociologists point to a heightened need to raise such questions with millennials now defining the generation accepting academic appointments at institutions across the country. For example, David Kinnaman, the President of the Barna Group, noted in relation to his study of millennials and the Church entitled You Lost Me, that “the next generation’s prodigious use of technology, entertainment, and media” is historically significant. In particular, such forms and rates of usage disconnect them from members of previous generations and, in turn, how well millennials inherit the professional roles from members of those generations. Kinnaman suggests mentoring practices focused on the cultivation of vocational awareness and wisdom as ways to address that challenge.

Drawing upon the riches of the Christian tradition, the “Mentoring Matters” symposium seeks to foster an interdisciplinary conversation focused on what lessons we can learn from the past concerning healthy mentoring relationships, what goals should define those relationships in the future, and what practices make the cultivation of those relationships possible.

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