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Universities are increasingly encouraging their undergraduates to become mentors to others, yet relatively little research has been done to empirically understand the impact of this work on the mentors themselves. Therefore, the overall goals of this work were: (1) To evaluate the types of studies that have been conducted on the impacts of serving as an undergraduate mentor; (2) To examine the methodological rigor of recent studies and make recommendations for improvement; and (3) To asses if serving as an undergraduate mentor impacted the critical thinking of the mentors, using a valid and reliable instrument, the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (CCTST). Upon searching the undergraduate mentoring literature published from 2013 through 2016, remarkably only about 6% (27 out of 454) examined the impact of mentoring on the undergraduate mentors themselves. Of these 27 papers, 7% contained only quantitative data, 22% utilized some degree of mixed methods, and about 71% were purely qualitative, primarily mentor self-reported descriptions of their experience. Therefore, I recommend more mentoring research be conducted that incorporates rigorous methods, including the use of more mixed methods and quantitative data collection, utilizing valid and reliable instruments. Subsequently, I used a quantitative instrument, the CCTST, as a pre/post assessment to examine the impact serving as a mentor had on the critical thinking abilities of mentors who were undergraduate life science majors when compared to similar non-mentor, life science majors. Prior to serving as a mentor, the mentors and non-mentors showed no significant difference in critical thinking ability (p = 0.118). However, after mentoring, mentors demonstrated significantly greater overall critical thinking ability than their non-mentor counterparts (p = 0.001). Additionally, in the subscales of analysis, inference, and numeracy, mentors showed significant improvements over non-mentors (p < 0.001 for each), suggesting that mentoring, at least in this specific program for this population, does affect critical thinking ability. Overall, the limited research of the impacts of mentoring on undergraduate mentors that is available is encouraging. However, mentoring programs vary widely and more empirical evidence is needed to better understand these impacts and to maximize the benefits for both the mentors and the mentees.
Advisors: Julie Thomas and Cory Forbes