Mary Gates Endowment For Students

Finding & Developing a Strong Mentor Relationship

Choosing a mentor

Many different people advise and guide you in your personal, academic and professional lives. You may also have one or two people that you regularly seek out for support. For the purposes of the Leadership Scholarship application, we ask that you choose one person who knows you and cares about your growth as a leader. This person may be a community leader or a member of the faculty or staff on campus. We do not recommend family members for this role and current undergraduate students are not eligible to be your project mentor. 

Developing a relationship with your mentor

It is important that once you identify someone to support your application, you have a conversation with him/her/them. You can use the application as a starting point to frame your relationship. You may wish to set expectations such as how often you wish to meet or talk, how you will do this (in person, virtually, email, etc.) and what you would like to discuss. We recommend that you plan to communicate regularly with your mentor and that you meet once a week, on average, during your project award period. 

Share your essay with your mentor and talk about your goals for the project as well as for yourself. The more your mentor understands you, your project and what you want to achieve, the better he or she will know how to contribute to your efforts AND what to include or address in a letter. Be sure to explicitly ask your mentor to write a letter of support once you’ve had at least one conversation and communicate the date by which the letter must be received.

What you and your mentor can expect from one another

Mentors’ expectations of the students they mentor

We surveyed mentors of Mary Gates Scholars and asked them what they expect of the students they mentor. Below are some common responses:

  • Communication.  Mentors expect the students they mentor to maintain consistent communication, and to be reliable, responsive, prepared, and organized. Mentors expect students to communicate their ideas, concerns, needs, and expectations, and to be willing to ask questions and ask for help. Mentors expect that students will be able to receive and give feedback.
  • Student attitude and work ethic.  Mentors expect the students they mentor to be enthusiastic about their project, and to be willing to put in the effort necessary. Mentors expect students to be self-motivated, disciplined, motivated and committed. Mentors hope that students are willing to take initiative, challenge themselves and take risks. Mentors expect that students they mentor will be honest, hardworking and conscientious.

What students can expect from their mentor

We surveyed mentors of Mary Gates Scholars and asked them what students can expect from them as a mentor. Below are some common responses:

  • Support and guidance.  Students can expect support and feedback from their mentors. Students can expect their mentors to be accessible, willing to listen, and responsive to questions and concerns. Mentors often provide personal encouragement and guidance in helping students achieve their immediate and longer-term goals. Mentors take an interest in students’ progress and are committed to students’ development as researchers or leaders.
  • Ideas and intellect.  Mentors can help students in refining their ideas, and shaping their project into a form that can be accomplished. Mentors support students intellectually, encouraging them to think for themselves and challenge themselves.  Students can expect that their mentors will have high expectations for their work. In leadership, students can expect their mentors to offer guidance in areas such as developing as a leader, focusing on feasible project goals and outcomes, describing impact of project on self and others, engaging in reflective thinking, overcoming project challenges, identifying and gaining access to project resources, and building confidence in communications skills.

Thanking your mentor

Most mentors embrace their roles without reward for their time or effort but purely for their interest in helping emerging leaders and professionals. You can show your appreciation for their guidance simply by thanking them. You might also recognize your mentor more publicly with a note to their organization or department, or to our office.