The Mentoring Relationship

Innocent F. Okozi, Rosha Hebsur, Andrea Zainab Nael and Le Ondra Clark discuss the multi-faceted advantages of the mentoring relationship for ethnic minority students, particularly as a means for empowerment and increasing student retention rates.

Innocent F. Okozi, MA, EdS
Chair, APAGS-CEMA, Seton Hall University 

Rosha Hebsur, MA
RDC (South-East), APAGS-CEMA, Argosy University-Washington, DC 

Andrea Zainab Nael, MEd
RDC (South-Central), APAGS-CEMA, Oklahoma State University 

Le Ondra Clark, MS, LPC
RDC (South-West), APAGS-CEMA, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Value of Mentoring

Innocent F. Okozi, MA, EdSOne of the hallmarks of a psychology training program's commitment to recruitment and retention of ethnic minority students through graduation is the creation of a welcoming and supportive environment. In this article, we will discuss the role of the mentoring relationship in facilitating the retention and matriculation of ethnic minority students. It has been found that mentoring is an effective approach to address the insufficient knowledge about, or access to, resources that many ethnic minority students experience (Allen-Sommerville, 1992; Hill, Castillo, Ngu, & Pepion, 1999). The effects of mentoring are multifaceted; it can be useful in improving communication abilities, removing financial obstacles, and eliminating institutional barriers that can contribute to a sense of alienation (Williamson, 1994).

Chan (2008) examined the multifaceted nature of mentoring relationships between ethnic minority predoctoral students and their faculty mentors, and found that mentoring provides ethnic minority students an entrance into a world of unwritten rules and etiquettes they are otherwise not privy to. The mentoring relationship also provides interaction with a system that is often inaccessible to ethnic minorities. Kram (1985) identified the foremost role of mentors as serving career and psychosocial functions through providing information and advice, coaching, exposure and visibility, honest self-disclosure, validation, and feedback. Thus, mentors have an ability to empower students with the resources and access necessary for navigating the climate of the academic world.

A salient factor in the mentoring relationship is the disclosure about race and status. Chan (2008) found that open dialogue about race, privilege, and racism between mentor and mentee paved the way for greater understanding and appreciation of differing worldviews. Additionally, sensitive negotiation of cross-racial relationships can give students the confidence and skills to adapt to a unique culture with its own set of unfamiliar norms and conventions. Mentoring, which provides ethnic minority students with openness, honesty, and feedback, can facilitate access into a world that can appear unclear, confusing, and anxiety-provoking. 

Informal and Formal Mentoring Relationships and Resources

Informal mentoring relationships develop on their own between two partners who agree to develop the relationship. For example, one ethnic minority graduate student shared her experience as a mentee:

Rosha Hebsur, MA

As a biracial student from a poor background, I experienced considerable difficulty on my path towards graduate school. My mentor saw a potential in me that I did not believe existed. Through my relationship with him, I gained more confidence and knowledge of the multifaceted nature of applying to a graduate program. I received lots of support from him, which allowed me to integrate my culture with my academic aspirations. We frequently discussed issues of microaggressions, acculturation, and surviving in an ivory tower world as a person-of-color. I am eternally grateful to him for this relationship and owe my educational attainments to his friendship.

The above example demonstrates how personal interest and involvement on the part of a faculty member (Thomason, 1999) or "personal concerned contact" (Taylor & Olswang, 1997, p.16) is essential for creating and maintaining a supportive environment (Rogers & Molina, 2006).

Andrea Zainab Nael, MEdFormal mentoring relationships develop out of assigned relationships, usually between two partners who are associated with an organization. For example, the Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs of the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS-CEMA) developed a peer mentoring program for ethnic minority graduate students. This program is structured to allow advanced doctoral students the opportunity to mentor students who are in their first and second years in graduate school. The overall aim of the program is the facilitation of meaningful relationships that will aid the retention of ethnic minority students as they navigate through graduate school.

Le Ondra Clark, MS, LPCAnother resource is The APAGS Resource Guide for Ethnic Minority Graduate Students (APAGS, in press). This guide has a section that highlights different strategies and helpful information that would facilitate the recruitment and retention of ethnic minority graduate students. In addition, the involvement of students of color in APAGS leadership enhances their training in leadership positions, which is inevitable if the diversity is an integral part of psychology's raison d'être.


Fostering mentoring relationships is a key strategy for the retention of students through graduation, particularly the retention of ethnic minority students. Relationships can take a variety of forms including formal or informal, and/or within or outside the student's graduate program or department. Emerging electronic communication media and social networking are vehicles that also facilitate both local and long distance mentoring relationships. Given the advocacy efforts in the field of psychology to increase the public access to psychological services, especially for ethnic minority populations, future research is needed to explore the impact of cross-cultural mentoring relationships in the recruitment and retention of students of color.


Allen-Sommerville, L. (1992). Mentoring ethnic minority students: An education-community partnership. School Community Journal, 2(1), 29-34.

American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS). (in press). APAGS resource guide for ethnic minority graduate students. Washington, DC: APAGS.

Chan, A. W. (2008). Mentoring ethnic minority, pre-doctoral students: An analysis of key mentor practices. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 16(3), 263-277. doi: 10.1080/13611260802231633

Hill, R. D., Castillo, L. G., Ngu, L. Q., & Pepion, K. (1999). Mentoring ethnic minority students for careers in academia: The WICHE doctoral scholars program. Counseling Psychologist, 27(6), 827-845. doi:10.1177/0011000099276007

Kram, K. E. (1985) Mentoring at work: Developmental relationships in organizational life. Glenview, IL: Scott Foresman & Company.

Rogers, M. R., & Molina, L. E. (2006). Exemplary efforts in psychology to recruit and retain graduate students of color. American Psychologist, 61(2), 143-156. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.61.2.143

Taylor, E., & Olswang, S. G. (1997). Crossing the color line: African Americans and predominantly White universities. College Student Journal, 31, 11-18.

Thomason, T. C. (1999). Improving the recruitment and retention of Native American students in psychology. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 5 (4), 308-316.

Innocent F. Okozi, MA, EdS, is a fourth-year doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology program at Seton Hall University, NJ. He is also a predoctoral intern at the University of Maine Counseling Center, Orono, Maine. Okozi is the current Chair of APAGS Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs (CEMA) and the APAGS liaison to APA CEMA.

Rosha Hebsur, MA, is a third year doctoral student in the clinical psychology program at the American School of Professional Psychology/Argosy University, DC. She is a psychology extern at the Psychiatric Institute of Washington where she provides testing for ethnic minority children and adolescents. She is also an Advocacy Associate for People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL), a human rights organization dedicated to educating leaders about the tragic situation in Sri Lanka.

Andrea Zainab Nael, MEd, is a second-year doctoral student at Oklahoma State University. As a Regional Diversity Coordinator for CEMA, Andrea plans to work with the peer mentoring program to increase the sense of community within ethnic minority graduate students.

Le Ondra Clark, MS, LPC, is a doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Counseling Psychology department and a current predoctoral intern at the University of Southern California's Children's Hospital Los Angeles. Clark is the former Jegnaship chair (mentorship chair) and the current Chairperson of the Association of Black Psychologists Student Circle.