The Benefits of a Dual-Mentorship Model

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Tuesday, February 22, 2022
By Tricia Bisoux
Photo by iStock / PeopleImages
At NUBS China, students are mentored by industry executives and former program participants as part of a comprehensive self-directed learning experience.
  • The Global Mentorship Programme promotes students’ personal, professional, and social success through a dual-mentorship model.
  • Tutors, industry mentors, peer mentors, and program coordinators provide support, but students are responsible for initiating and maintaining their mentor-mentee relationships.
  • The GMP uses a combination of tutoring, group projects, and experiential reflection to help students grow from their mentorship experience and to establish a global learning community.

In 2016, administrators at Nottingham University Business School (NUBS) in Ningbo, China, wanted to encourage students to take control of their own personal, professional, and social development. Their answer to this challenge was to create the Global Mentorship Programme (GMP). Open to students at all levels and from all disciplines (not just the business school), the semester-long program combines the input of multiple mentors and a curriculum driven by self-directed learning.

Now in its sixth year, the student-driven program is based on a dual-mentorship model: Each student is assigned two mentors, one an industry professional and one an alumnus and former GMP participant. This dual-mentoring process strengthens students’ global professional profiles and adds to their personal career resources, explains Xuan Feng, who leads the GMP. She also is the school’s director of personal and career development, as well as an associate professor in human resource management and organizational behavior.

By the end of 2021, 404 students had completed the program. This year, about 70 more students are working with 15 peer mentors, as well as 40 industry mentors from 20 countries. Although the program can accommodate only a limited number of students each year, says Feng, coordinators aim for a mix of students from different disciplines, academic years, and nationalities. In this way, students are exposed to a wider range of perspectives and can further expand their networks.

Student-Driven Relationships

In the first stage of the program, students complete a short survey, in which they indicate their backgrounds, interests, and motivations for participating in GMP, as well as what they hope to take away from the experience. The GMP team uses that information to match students with mentors with the most appropriate experience.

Next, students attend an orientation that is facilitated by a program tutor. The tutor instructs students on how to make the most of the mentee-mentor relationship and encourages them to reach out to their industry mentors on their own initiative, both virtually and in-person when possible. During the rest of the program, the tutor will intervene in this process only when students report difficulties connecting with their mentors.

One of the most defining features of the GMP is the fact that it is largely student-driven, explains Martin Lockett, dean of the school’s faculty of business. “The tutor provides instructions and tips regarding initiating professional relationships and communicating with industry mentors, but students are required to reach out to external mentors, establish relationships, and initiate conversations and meetings with mentors all by themselves,” he explains. “Students have the freedom to choose the topics they want to discuss with the mentors, as well as the means and frequency of communication.”

Multiple Mentors, Multiple Perspectives

During the second stage of the program, students contact their assigned industry mentors, who are primarily senior-level executives and business founders working in the corporate, public, and social sectors. About two-thirds of these executives each mentor one mentee, but about a third of them regularly work with two. This year’s mentors represent organizations such as the United Nations, Apple, Cargill, Cosco Logistics, United Media Solution, Samsonite, Borg Warner, and BASF.

After meeting with their mentors, students then, on their own, form groups of five to six members. Each group is guided by three to four peer mentors, all former GMP participants. Peer mentors share their experience, help current students better utilize program resources, and provide tailored advising and coaching for students during group assignments.

Industry mentors can provide students with ongoing insights into real-world business environments, while peer mentors “can provide general academic and career development support for student mentees that goes beyond the scope of GMP,” says Feng.

The program’s dual-mentorship process strengthens students’ global professional profiles and adds to their personal career resources.

The overall program also is supported by three academic mentors from NUBS China, who include the business school dean, the program director, and a faculty member. Academic mentors design learning modules and create assessment formats to measure student learning outcomes; when necessary, they also aid students in their interactions with mentors.

Growth Through Group Projects

In the final stage of the program, students work on two group assignments related to career development. The first is a video that is presented online and assessed by global mentors. The second is a poster presentation evaluated by industry and peer mentors, in person and online, who provide students with suggestions for future development. To prepare for their group work, students participate in intensive coaching sessions, where the tutor listens to students’ presentations of ideas, reviews their preliminary poster designs, and gives each group constructive feedback.

When the GMP first started, students chose topics for these group assignments themselves, based on their own interests. But because “students have rather limited knowledge about careers and industries,” Lockett explains, different groups tended to propose similar topics. To ensure students tackled a wider range of projects each semester, the program team began choosing broad themes related to career development and assigning a theme to each group via a random drawing. Students then decide on more specific topics to develop within the themes provided.

In 2020, the school began inviting industry mentors to contribute potential project themes related to new trends in career and industry development. In the first semester of 2021–22, mentors suggested themes such as the value that student interns bring to companies, the emergence of new jobs over the next five years, and China’s role in new job creation. The program team selected themes such as building thriving organizations in a post-COVID-19 era, applying new technology such as artificial intelligence in hiring, and building meaningful careers during times of uncertainty.

“By working on these themes,” says Feng, “students get a better understanding of the future of work and organizations, as well as the personal and contextual resources they need to foster future personal and career development.”

In addition to these group assignments, students are asked to reflect on what they learned after each of their meetings with their mentors as another experiential component. At the end of the program, students are assessed based on their individual reflections (20 percent of their grade) and their group work (80 percent).

Building Mentor Engagement

At the poster presentation event, a select group of mentors is invited to share their work experience, industrial insights, and career advice with students and provide constructive feedback on their work. At the end of the event, the program also highlights students’ key achievements.

From its inception, the GMP has been delivered in a hybrid format, with students often meeting with mentors and each other via virtual formats. In the past, they came to campus to attend seminars and give their final group presentations to mentors in person, but these activities were moved online after COVID struck.

During the pandemic, students learned to communicate with their global mentors even more effectively using virtual technologies such as Moodle, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams.

Now that the school has re-opened its campus, some mentors continue to attend the showcase of students’ on-campus presentations virtually. This change in format has made it possible for mentors to participate who otherwise would not have been able to travel to campus. “This has enhanced mentor engagement,” says Lockett.

During the pandemic, students learned to communicate with their global mentors even more effectively using virtual technologies such as Moodle, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams. They also increased their virtual networking with peers, mentors, and alumni using social media networks such as LinkedIn and WeChat.

Since 2018, the school has held on-campus and virtual gatherings, where mentors, GMP alumni, and students can interact and learn from each other. These discussions often are centered on a single career theme. In 2021, the school began inviting mentors to speak to GMP participants two to three times each semester. During these talks, mentors share their personal career experiences with students; so far, they have discussed topics ranging from the impact of technology on work to the strengths-based development of employees.

A ‘Boundaryless’ Learning Community

During the group project stage, mentors get to know their mentees very well, says Lockett. One goal, he says, is for industry mentors to offer internship opportunities to their mentees during or after the group assignments are complete.

Every aspect of the program’s design, delivery, and assessment is grounded in research, says Feng. For example, she and Lockett have conducted research in which they have evaluated how helping students develop competencies such as learning agility and cultural awareness can help them improve their employability. Mentoring, Feng explains, has been shown to “fill students’ skill gaps and supports student employability development in non-Western cultures like China.”

The program’s design also is informed by a range of research, including studies that outline different types of mentoring, factors that contribute to positive mentorship experiences, and ways to enhance the mentor-mentee relationship using online communication tools. The school drew from another resource in particular to inspire GMP’s dual-mentorship model, The Blackwell Handbook of Mentoring.

To ensure the program’s long-term success, NUBS China provides both monetary and administrative support. The school offers financial sponsorship to enable executive mentors to make on-campus visits, and it makes sure top academic leaders are involved in student presentations. It also brings on administrative staff to help organize the learning activities, and asks marketing staff to promote the program and report on students’ activities and achievements.

The program’s format has received both internal and external recognition. In 2018, for example, the GMP received the University of Nottingham’s Lord Dearing Award, which recognizes its faculty’s achievements in enhancing the student learning experience. And in 2020, the Ningbo Educational Bureau gave the program its Ningbo Higher Education Outstanding Teaching Achievement Award, which recognizes teaching theories and practices that improve the quality of student learning and have potential for wider application in Chinese higher education.

The GMP has achieved the school’s goal of building a wide-reaching global community that students and their mentors can turn to for years to come, says Feng. The program “brings in real-life contexts and experience through global mentorship,” she says. “We have created an inclusive and boundaryless learning community that connects all the stakeholders and enables GMP members to continue this shared learning journey even after the completion of the program study.”

Tricia Bisoux
Editor, AACSB Insights
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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