Possible Futures: Supporting Undergraduate Students with Fourth-Year Transition Anxiety through On-Line Alumni-Mentorship Videos
Fourth-year students are perched on the edge of the rest of their lives - still students, but eager to taste independence, while also terrified of what the future may hold. I have taught this age-group for over a decade now and seen the anxieties arise every September at the beginning of the school year, as soon as students begin the process of exploring and conceptualizing what they want to do after graduation. Therefore, I am convinced that many students experience fourth-year transition anxiety - a significantly less researched phenomenon than first-year transition anxiety (Brady and Allingham 2007) - and that we need to examine and intervene in the beginning, not just the end, of such transitions, in order to prevent short and long-term negative consequences for our students.
One solution to such "edge" anxiety is increasing student empowerment and engagement through mentorship, but what might effective mentorship look like today? In the age of Facebook, Instagram, and Netflix, I would suggest that we need to find ways of integrating digital technologies into our mentorship processes. Child development researcher Clement Chau (2010) has argued that how-to videos posted on YouTube serve as "broadcast mentorship," by which he means video producers are advising viewers without interaction. Given that my students watch YouTube more than television, I believe broadcast mentorship videos would indeed feel familiar, accessible, and useful to them - with the added benefit of being a reusable resource.
For this reason, last year, I developed a prototype for mentorship videos, which bridge between peer and professional mentorship (what could be called "near" mentorship). They are short selfie- style "field reports" by alumni who are between three and ten years post-graduation. In the videos, ambitious and diverse alums - working from a common list of pre-set questions - reflect back on their professional journey and offer advice.
I chose these young mentors because they made it to the other side of graduation and can report back from the other side of the "edge". They are better positioned than anyone else to advise them on, for example, how to get the most out of their Senior Project, how to use it to build a network of contacts, how to launch and then juggle a portfolio career, etc. Hearing from someone just like them, rather than a professor, about the possible futures that await them could offer vulnerable students the support they need to feel connected within a community of learners and empowered to re-engage with their learning, thus increasing their chances of short and long-term success.
Mentorship videos - as an efficient, durable, and sustainable resource - can be used to enhance student success and engagement at critical times in degree programs. Even though I am using them exclusively at the fourth-year level at present, they can be developed for first-year students or even MA students beginning their first independent research project. Indeed, almost any academic institution could use such videos to support students grappling with major transitions that are causing significant anxiety and thus slowing student progress.
Such video materials are quick and easy to make in partnership with recent alumni and offer them with a welcome opportunity to give back to their programs and former peers. All interviewees work from a common pre-set list of questions that accumulate into a selfie-style "field report." The resulting videos, which are peppered with film clips and images of the alumni doing various kinds of work, offer current students a reflection on their professional journey as well as insightful advice on how to face challenges and ultimately move their portfolio careers forward.
In this session, I will share some of my own video examples as well as my creation process for such videos, so that attendees can walk away with a recipe for making their own, no matter what transition they wish to ameliorate in their academic program. These videos can be made by almost any educator, as we have the tools we need to make these videos at our fingertips, literally - a smart phone and the email addresses of former students who have stayed in touch after graduation.
In this session, I will share an innovative approach to supporting students with transition anxiety - alumni-mentorship videos. (Tinto 1997) I will screen some of my own video prototypes as well as explain my creation process, so that attendees can walk away with a plan for making their own, no matter what challenging transition they wish to ameliorate in their academic program.
These videos bridge between peer and professional mentorship (what could be called "near" mentorship). They are short selfie-style "field reports" by alumni who are between three and ten years post-graduation. In the videos, ambitious and diverse alums - working from a pre-set list of questions - reflect back on their professional journey and offer heart-felt advice. Their comments are illustrated with film clips of them at work in different kinds of spaces, so current students can visualize different career options available to them.
Mentorship, especially by peers and alumni, is an incredibly valuable resource that can absolutely bolster students during tough transitions. (Hobson, Johnston, and Spinelli 2015; Pembridge 2011; Walker, Thrasher and Mazerolle 2016; and Chester, Xenos, Burton, and Elgar 2013) But, it is a resource that has clear limits - in terms of time and renewability - if done in real-time, face-to-face. As a result, digital models for mentorship are in the process of being developed by health and teacher education researchers in order to increase the accessibility of mentorship while decreasing the impact of social bias on these relationships. (Hamilton and Scandura 2003)
Eager to maximize my students' access to alumni in a way that would not negatively impact the budding careers of my former students, I developed a prototype for alumni-mentorship videos - which are efficient, durable, and sustainable. They offer current students a type of "broadcast mentorship," which mirrors the advice videos they watch almost daily on YouTube. (Chau 2010) Although certainly not as individualized as face-to-face mentorship, these videos nonetheless offer students an array of possible futures to consider as they move towards graduation as well as the encouragement to overcome whatever transition anxiety they might be experiencing.