August 24, 2023, Durham, NC – The college years are often a time of great change and new responsibilities, and it can be difficult for students to adjust to these new responsibilities without a diverse network of support. The connections, relationships, and resources available to students, called social capital, impact college students’ academic and career success, and it is vital that students have the skills or resources available to them to build their social capital during the college years in order to thrive.
Mentoring relationships are a form of social capital and a great source of support for college students. Students benefit from various types of mentoring relationships, including relationships with teachers, professionals, and college faculty members, in addition to their relationships with family and family friends. Studies have shown that both formal mentoring relationships, which involve the matching of mentors and mentees by mentoring programs, and informal mentoring relationships, which are naturally-forming relationships, can help students adjust to college academically, socially, and psychologically, as well as increase student retention. These types of relationships are particularly impactful for students of color and first-generation college students; however, studies have shown that these subgroups of students tend to have less diverse networks and fewer connections to mentors on campus than other students.
iRT developed the Connected Scholars course, a research-informed course designed for college, university, and high school students, with Drs. Sarah Schwartz and Stella Kanchewa to fill this gap. Connected Scholars helps students learn the importance of social capital and practice networking and relationship-building skills to expand their social networks. Many colleges and universities use organized mentoring programs and mentor-mentee matching to help students build their social capital, but Connected Scholars aims to teach students the skills they need to seek out their own mentoring relationships and build their social capital on their own.
iRT Senior Research Scientist Dr. Janis Kupersmidt and a team of researchers, led by Dr. Sarah Schwartz of Suffolk University, conducted a randomized evaluation of the impacts of the Connected Scholars course on college students’ attitudes and behaviors related to help-seeking and networking, social capital and mentoring relationships, and academic outcomes. Results of the study were recently published in the American Educational Research Journal.
The study evaluated the impacts of Connected Scholars when taught as a semester-long, one-credit-hour course to a diverse group of undergraduate students, and the research team examined differential impacts based upon first generation college student status, race, and year in college. Students who took the Connected Scholars course reported improved attitudes towards help-seeking, increased help-seeking behavior, higher levels of social capital and mentoring support, and increased academic self-efficacy, but also a decrease in academic cognitive engagement. The decrease found in academic cognitive engagement may have been a result of the fact that the course focused on developing personal and professional goals, which may have shifted students’ motivation away from learning simply for the sake of learning. In addition, first-generation college students who took the course experienced greater improvements in the number of deeper mentoring connections on campus than continuing-generation college students who took the course. White students who took the course experienced greater improvements in networking and increases in the number of weak mentoring connections on campus than students of color who took the course.
Results of this study provide promising support for the Connected Scholars program’s ability to provide students with skills to increase their social capital, transform students’ attitudes toward help-seeking, and help students see improvements in their mentoring connections on campus, so they can thrive personally and professionally. To learn more about the Connected Scholars program, visit http://connectedscholarsprogram.com/.