Developed by: Howard University


The academic and professional success of students from historically underrepresented backgrounds has been strongly linked to peer mentorship from students with shared social identities. Such mentors have often shared similar challenges and life experiences as their mentees, which promotes relatability and empathy. In addition, the advice shared may be perceived as more meaningful and relevant due to shared commonality in backgrounds, attitudinal similarities, and lived experiences (1). This notion of preference and familiarity has been amply studied, and the research indicates that students of color prefer mentors of color, underscoring the importance of developing strong mentoring skills in faculty of color. Against this backdrop, Howard University initiated a pilot peer-mentoring program in 2018 to develop and enhance mentoring skills in doctoral dissertators interested in entering the professoriate. The Peer Mentoring Initiative (PMI) has already helped dissertators hone their mentoring skills, and continues to support new doctoral students as they acclimate to academic life as professionals _ critical because of the historical exclusion of Black, Indigenous, and other students of color in higher education, and the lack of social and cultural capital to navigate the PhD as compared to their white counterparts.

Goals & Objectives

The program is designed to meet the following goals:

  1. Develop and refine the mentoring skills of STEM Dissertators interested in an academic career.
  2. Identify areas of need that PhD STEM students have at the university.
  3. Identify potential barriers that PhD STEM students experience at the university.
  4. Incorporate peer mentoring support to students in those critical areas for successful navigation through the program.
  5. Improve early-level PhD students’ self-perceptions, skills, attitudes, and behaviors associated with retention in STEM programs.
  6. Build future faculty capacity as mentors to support their peers
  7. Cultivate a campus culture of service

Partners To Engage

Department Chairs
Graduate Students Directors
Office of Graduate Student Support
Student Organizations
Graduate Student Council

Recruitment & Selection

Mentors and mentees are selected through outreach to STEM graduate departments across the university. The outreach begins at the end of the Spring Semester, evaluation of applicants is completed by late summer, and all Program Participants are formally informed shortly before the Fall semester begins of their acceptance into the Program. A pivotal criterion for matching mentor and mentee is shared discipline, however exceptions can be made if a mentee indicates a special need or preference. Prior to meeting with mentees, mentors are required to complete a self-paced peer online mentoring in STEM training program (2).

Planning & Logistics

The structure of the program includes up to 30 advanced-level PhD STEM students (Dissertators) who are selected through an application process to serve as mentors to first- and/or second-year PhD students in STEM. Mentors are financially compensated with a modest, yet meaningful stipend for their participation in the program.

The program utilizes an autonomous approach to the mentor-mentee relationship that allows for support to be tailored to the specific needs of each mentee. Mentors and mentees participating in the program are required to meet at least three times during a semester, utilizing either of three modes of meeting, i.e., in-person, phone, or online. Mentors are required to attend check-in group meetings with the program staff approximately every 3-weeks to report on their interactions and progress with their mentees. Mentees are also required to attend a check-in meeting with the program staff once per semester. Importantly, during these meetings, the program staff collect and synthesize the information in accordance with the goals of the program and corrections/improvements are made if necessary. The academic year culminates in the submission of a reflection paper and a Program Survey to both the mentor and mentee documenting both their experience in the program and recommendations for improvement (3, 4, 5) Based on these submissions, a “Mentor of the Year” is selected and presented with a trophy in a celebratory event attended by all mentors, mentees, faculty and administrators.

A Pilot / Initial Rollout

  • Conduct an informational Session for faculty staff administrators and students
  • Secure buy-in from top level administrators to increase legitimacy
  • Establish Selection criteria for mentors and mentees
  • Pilot Program with a small number of mentors and mentees recruited from departments known to professional development for graduate students.
    • Piloting the Program with a small number will allow for the development of recruiting, training and reporting mechanisms.
  • Develop/Identify Training Resources for Mentors

Full-Scale Solution

  • Target departments which recognize the need to train advanced doctoral students who are interested in faculty careers with critical mentoring skills.
  • Use Mentors trained in the Pilot Initiative to serve as ambassadors of the Program for the full scale implementation.
    • This strategy of recruiting previous mentors as ambassadors is a very effective strategy in increasing both campus visibility and the number of Program participants as evidenced by growth of the Program in each consecutive year.
  • Contact Office of Admission to obtain a list of all incoming graduate students, use this list to send a “Welcome to the University email” inquiring if there is a interest in being matched with a peer mentor.
  • Contact Graduate School obtains contact information of all STEM doctoral students who have advanced to candidacy and recruit mentors from this pool of students.

Associated Costs

ItemUnit Cost# of UnitsCost
Bonding activities$5003$1,500
End of fall semester mixer$6001$600
Mentor of the Year ceremony$1,0001$1,000
Miscellaneous (food for meetings, token for mentees, etc.)$1,0001$1,500

Assessment Options

  • Survey
  • Focus Groups
  • Reflection Papers

Attribution Statement

For those that might adapt and adopt this program model, please provide attribution to Howard’s Peer mentoring program established in part with support from the National Science Foundation funded CIRTL AGEP Project.

References and Resources

Ensher, E. A. & Murphy, S. E. (1997). Effects of Race, Gender, Perceived Similarity, and Contact on Mentor Relationships, Journal of Vocational Behavior, 50 (3), 460-481.

Peer Mentoring Initiative – Mentor Assessment (Qualtrics)

Peer Mentoring Initiative – Mentee Assessment (Qualtrics)

Yukawa, M., Gansky, S. A., O’Sullivan, P., Teherani, A., & M. D. Feldman (2020). A new Mentor Evaluation Tool: Evidence of validity. PLoS ONE, 15 (6): e0234345.

Contact for More Information

To learn more about this program contact: Dr. Kamla Deonauth,