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Mentorship program to address graduate student inclusion

Group portrait of members of the ASU Mutually Enriching Mentorshop Program team, (from left to right) Michele Clark, Nancy Grimm and Hilairy Hartnett.

The Mutually Enriching Mentorship Program team (from left to right), Michele Clark, Nancy Grimm and Hilairy Hartnett. Photo credit: Mary Zhu

February 08, 2022

As part of Arizona State University’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has recently funded a project called Mutually Enriching Mentorship.

“This project will both enhance graduate student experience and their sense of inclusion within the various schools. It will provide better mentoring because our faculty will learn more about student’s needs,” said Professor Hilairy Hartnett, one of the co-leads, who has a joint faculty position in the School of Molecular Sciences and the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

The primary contact and co-lead for the project is Michele Clark, who is the project manager of the Earth Systems Science for the Anthropocene (ESSA) graduate scholars network, an initiative created and led by School of Life Sciences’ Regents Professor Nancy Grimm.

“We need to make spaces that define what mentoring relationships mean to students and their success," said Grimm, ESSA co-director and the third co-lead of the Mutually Enriching Mentorship program. "It’s telling that there are no preexisting faculty mentoring trainings at ASU or at many other universities … if we want students to learn to be effective mentors, then we must also ask faculty to be held to the same standards”.

ESSA-hosted listening sessions in 2020 and 2021 indicated that both graduate students and faculty are in search of mentorship structure and need resources to address cultural awareness and sensitivity, and power dynamics among students and faculty, and a clear toolkit for culturally responsive feedback to aid in conflict resolution.

What’s different about this mentorship program is that there will be a collaboration with graduate students to develop case studies around the idea of difference.

The mentorship will help faculty to understand differences in student experiences and perceptions, and how their goals might be different from what the faculty members’ goals were when they were graduate students. The program will prioritize shifting the culture and practice of mentoring toward more inclusive and mutually beneficial relationships. This cultural shift will contribute to a more cohesive and socially-just academic community and help graduate students of color succeed in the sciences.


The program will provide a multi-unit mentorship structure that challenges the historic master-apprentice mentorship model with four major objectives.

• The first is to create safe spaces for students of color to co-design a curriculum for faculty mentoring with trained facilitators.

• The second is to share our co-designed mentorship curricula with 40 faculty across the four units: School of Molecular Sciences, School of Life Sciences, School of Earth and Space Explortion, and School of Sustainability in the College of Global Futures, as well as the ESSA faculty community.

• The third is to bring faculty and their graduate student mentees together (40 faculty members and 40 students) to put their mentoring training into practice using a Critical Response Process focused on culturally aware feedback and competencies in conflict resolution.

• The fourth is to reflect on and iteratively revise this transformed mode of mentorship with an external collaborator, thereby creating a sustainable Mutually Enriching Mentorship structure.

After two iterations (two years) of the program's implementation, 40 faculty members and 40 graduate students will have gained access to a clear mentorship structure that cultivates a feedback culture, and 10 graduate student designers will have acquired valuable competencies in communication, facilitation and leadership, and they will be compensated for their work in support of that culture in the natural sciences.

After completion of the program, faculty will critically reflect on their mentorship style and be able to make culturally aware changes to their mentorship structure. A co-produced report will then be available to all academic units to improve organizational learning.

A unique element of program is the partnership with the graduate student designers who co-develop training resources. As experts in their lived experiences, graduate students will drive the direction of the training curriculum through context-specific, case-study development. They will provide insight into the graduate student mentoring experience in real time and make relevant recommendations along with trainers.

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