Every moment we spent with a mentor and mentee was extremely helpful in unpacking what it means to be a mentor. There were four main findings that led our design vision:
The term “mentor” comes with a weight of expectations that differs from person to person. Our interviews revealed the label “mentor” implied something different depending on who was asked. Youth view the word “mentor” to be synonymous with “therapist.”
“The word ‘mentoring’ at some of my schools, the kids are like, ‘Oh, why do you need that?’ They view is as therapy.”
Just as mentees turn to their mentors for help in their lives, mentors seek help from others when they need assistance in their mentoring relationships. Our interviews revealed that this assistance to mentors came from many sources: friends, family, or program staff (if available).
“I don’t know everything there is to know about being a mentor, and I want someone to be there to support me.”
While mentoring can inherently make a mentor feel good, seeing the impact on their mentee’s life is what makes it all worth it. In our interviews, we heard that seeing the short-term impact of mentoring incentivizes mentors to continue putting in the effort to volunteer.
“Sometimes it was as simple as seeing the young girl I was mentoring get a C on her math test instead of a D. I felt awesome even though it didn’t seem like that big of a change.”
People who are driven to mentoring are going to do it with or without formal training. One mentor reported that he always starts a conversation by simply asking the youth how their day is going and gauges from their what he can do to offer support. Although he had formal mentoring training in the past, he hasn’t had recent training.
“I do it by myself… A lot of these programs— it’s really hard to get in for these kids who really need it, so I just kind of do it.”