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Mentorships

Mentorships

MENTOR RELATIONSHIPS AND GIFTED LEARNERS

"If we want them to achieve, we must link them with achievers."
(H. Weinberg, The Public Television Outreach Alliance)
 

One of the most valuable experiences a gifted student can have is exposure to a mentor who is willing to share personal values, a particular interest, time, talents, and skills. When the experience is properly structured and the mentor is a good match for the student, the relationship can provide both mentor and student with encouragement, inspiration, new insights, and other personal rewards.
 

The idea of mentoring is as old as mankind. Ancient Greece introduced the concept, and it was institutionalized during the Middle Ages. The term MENTOR does not imply an internship, an apprenticeship, or a casual hit-or-miss relationship in which the student simply spends time in the presence of an adult and information is transmitted (Boston, 1989). Internships and apprenticeships are valuable because they allow students to learn new skills and investigate potential career interests. A mentorship, on the other hand, is a dynamic shared relationship in which values, attitudes, passions, and traditions are passed from one person to another and internalized. Its purpose is to transform lives (Boston, 1976).
 

Kaufmann's (1981) study of Presidential Scholars from 1964 to 1968 included questions pertaining to the nature, role, and influence of their most significant mentors. Having a role model, support, and encouragement were the most frequently stated benefits. Respondents also stated that they strongly benefited from mentors who set an example, offered intellectual stimulation, communicated excitement and joy in the learning process, and understood them and their needs.
 

Mentor relationships with dedicated scholars, artists, scientists, or business people are highly suitable for gifted learners.  Many of these students have multiple potentials (they like everything and are good at everything) and may encounter college and career planning problems if they cannot establish priorities or set long-term goals (Berger, 1989; Frederickson & Rothney, 1972; Kerr, 1985). Such students may have more options and alternatives than they can realistically consider.
 

Parents notice that mentors have a maturing effect: Students suddenly develop a vision of what they can become, find a sense of direction, and focus their efforts. Some exemplary programs have been described by Cox, Daniel, and Boston (1985) in Educating Able Learners.
 

Gifted students from disadvantaged populations benefit strongly from mentor relationships (McIntosh & Greenlaw, 1990). Mentor programs throughout the nation (e.g., Washington, DC, Chicago, IL, Austin, TX, and Denver, CO) match bright disadvantaged youngsters of all ages with professionals of all types. Student self-confidence and aspirations are raised to new heights as the relationship grows and develops. Mentors see things in students that students may not see in themselves.  Young adolescents gain a sense of both the lifestyle associated with the mentor's profession and the educational course that leads to it.  Mentors become extended family members and, later, colleagues. 
 

A true mentor relationship does not formally end.
Both the mentor and the student make an indelible imprint upon the life of the other.