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Does mentoring help the mentor? Student helps find answers

November 12, 2013

Like nearly 200 students before her, Ashley Johnson has served as a peer mentor for ASU’s Communication Assessment and Learning Lab (CALL), located on the West campus. Now, she is involved in a research project that aims to determine the impact of being a peer mentor on a student’s communication skills after he or she completes a bachelor’s degree.

“At universities around the country, thousands of undergraduate students serve as peer mentors, but little is really known about how that experience contributes to their communication skills after they leave college,” said Bonnie Wentzel, lecturer and faculty director of CALL in ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. “Because CALL will soon celebrate its 10th anniversary, we thought it was a good time to seek out all of our former peer mentors and ask them whether they feel their experience has contributed to their communication abilities.”

In the spring, CALL became one of only 11 communication labs to be a nationally certified mentoring program as identified by the National Association of Communication Centers. Students enrolled in communication courses such as Public Speaking or Communication in Business and the Professions may use CALL to prepare, deliver and evaluate individual and group oral presentations.

Johnson’s work on the research project began with training in Institutional Review Board (IRB) procedures to be used in research projects involving human participants. She then began working to find former mentors, gather information and develop analysis strategies.

“Because professor Wentzel's research focuses on the benefits, primarily communicative, that mentors gain from the mentorship experience, I am invested in the process,” said Johnson, who is pursuing bachelor’s degrees in communication and political science, and also is a student in Barrett, the Honors College. “I loved my role as a CALL mentor and am eager to see how others have reaped the benefits as well.”

Johnson aspires to gain admission to law school.

“Working directly with faculty on research is an incredible opportunity for me to gain experience for my law school applications, as well as my Barrett thesis,” she said.

“I also have learned so much about how research is done in the real world,” Johnson said. “Although I have learned about research in my methods courses and textbooks, the act of actually conducting research involves bumps in the road that researchers must work through. This experience is incredibly beneficial for me as an undergraduate.”

“Working as a faculty-student team in these situations exposes the students to hands-on academic problem-solving,” added Wentzel. “In my mind, this is where the most dynamic and long-term learning happens.”

Johnson was selected via a competitive process to receive a stipend through the New College Undergraduate Inquiry & Research Experiences (NCUIRE) program, which pays undergrads to work with faculty members on research projects across the curriculum.

“This is yet another benefit I am lucky to receive,” she said. “As a full-time student with two jobs, it is because of the stipend that I can allot time to this research without worrying how it may affect my finances."