MentorNet – (Case Study 1)

An Example of Effective Electronic Mentoring

MentorNet is an award-winning nonprofit e-mentoring network for diversity in engineering and science. By working through a consortium of organizations, MentorNet pairs undergraduate and graduate students, post-docs, and early career faculty in STEM fields with professionals in industry, government, and higher education. These mentoring pairs establish email-based, one-on-one mentoring relationships that last eight or more months. More than 14,000 pairs of protégés and mentors have been matched through MentorNet’s One-on-One programs.

Mentoring pairs typically communicate two or three times per month via email. The most satisfied pairs agree in advance about frequency of communication and what to do if re-connection becomes necessary. Mentors are recruited internally by MentorNet corporate and government sponsors, by email from professional societies to their members, and through conference exhibits, publications, former participants, and word-of-mouth. Protégées are recruited by faculty members, on-campus professional societies, school publications, former participating students, and campus representatives who forward information about MentorNet to students. Eligible prospective participants review program information online, and then may complete online profiles with information about their fields of interest, background and demographic characteristics, topics of primary interest or concern, and preferred or required characteristics of the person with whom they wish to be matched. Protégées may choose their mentor or matching is done automatically.

Training materials, coaching, and consulting are available online. The training materials include information about mentoring, the differences between electronic communication and in-person communication, netiquette, diversity in mentoring, and questions a mentor may ask a protégée. Also included in the training materials is an interactive set of case studies for practice addressing issues that can arise in an e-mentoring relationship. Coaching takes the form of regular email messages with discussion or activity suggestions. Consulting offers help with maintaining mentor-protégé contact or any difficulties that arise. In addition to these resources, MentorNet’s E-Forum offers a variety of topic-based online discussion groups for exchange of ideas and advice. These forums may be used in conjunction with, or instead of, one-on-one engagement.


Careful evaluation of the MentorNet program has been conducted, and is reported online at the program website. Reports document high participant satisfaction, especially among mentors. Seventy percent of mentors and fifty-nine percent of protégées recommended the program to friends; many more said they would recommend it. A strong majority (83%) of protégées indicated that their mentor provided them with support and encouragement, with many (66%) specifying “ideas for balancing personal and professional lives” as a particular type of support provided. More than half of protégées said that their self-confidence increased and they gained understanding of careers and the workplace as a result of their MentorNet experience. Mentors also thought they benefited. They experienced positive feelings from contributing to the next generation, and they learned skills such as how to find their own mentor and recruit talented people to their organization. These self-reports from 40% to 47% of participants, together with the large numbers of participants in MentorNet, suggest that it is a successful program. Solid evidence that this success results from the e-mentoring is not yet available, although further assessment is being considered.


Mentoring relationships were more successful when participants spent more time on them, when expectations were communicated up-front and clearly, and when both partners felt the match was a good one—a sentiment promoted by students choosing their own mentor. The mentor-protégée relationship was most satisfying when both participants enjoyed and respected each other. This outcome was more likely when discipline, career path or employer, and personal interests were the same. For e-mentoring to work, participants must be comfortable with email and able to overcome the absence of information that is communicated through body language and eye contact. The most successful mentoring pairs say that it is important to establish early-on common ground beyond their motivation for participating in the program, create a plan for email frequency and what to do when it lags, and spend time composing thoughtful emails.



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Authors: Lecia Barker and J. McGrath Cohoon