I have been thinking about mentoring in some fashion from my earliest days as an athlete. I was motivated to impress teachers and coaches, listening and practicing skill-improvement that I internalized as self-improvement for much of my childhood. My skills did not come “naturally,” but my work ethic is second to few—I was coachable. My first job was as a swim instructor and coach; there is nothing better than facilitating the transition from apprehension and inability to empowerment and flip-turns.

Photo of a dog in a pool, with paws up on the edge. Text says: "Flip turn?! Seriously?!"

As I navigated through my collegiate student-athlete life into graduate school life, I have had so many mentors who dedicated time to both my skill- and self-improvement. These relationships have been some of the most transformative in my life, including the coaches who threw clipboards to motivate and a graduate advisor who asked “so what, who cares” after every polished presentation. I often reflect on when and why these mentoring relationships worked, the identities we shared or didn’t share, and structures and practices that fostered my positive experience.

As I became faculty and more formally mentored students, most often in undergraduate research, my curiosity in the structures and practices that contribute to high-quality mentoring became a line of research and facilitated multiple transformative collaborative mentoring experiences. I have been most interested in the structures and models (Bradley et al. 2017; Nicholson et al. 2017; Vandermaas-Peeler and Ketcham 2015) that lead to layers, leaves, and legs of impact (project, student, and faculty development). I have written extensively about a co-mentoring model (Ketcham, Hall, and Miller 2017; Ketcham et al. 2018; Walkington, Hall, and Ketcham, in press) and mentoring constellation structures (Hall et al. 2020; Hall et al. 2021; Vandermass-Peeler et al., in review) where the reciprocity of mentoring within and across roles and responsibilities (students, faculty, community) is intentional and visible. The goal of these models is to flatten power and intentionally give and gain from the mentoring relationship.

More recently I have been contemplating the reciprocity and flattening of power in our classrooms with particular interest in the Inclusive Teaching Framework. Discussions about who we are, who we teach, and what we teach (Festle 2020) for me has been thought-provoking as I work to become a more inclusive teacher creating more inclusive learning spaces. I have always framed my work to meet people where they are, to lean in, to lift up, and to be open to their experiences and background. Who they are matters to me, and I want to be part of what empowers them to believe they can do the equivalent of a flip-turn in their developmental journey. But who we are matters in the dynamics on both sides of any relationship, and in this equation I am more and more aware of the importance of having a breadth of identity representation in all spaces. This interaction of the who and what of teaching is not just about being mentored and mentoring but fostering and supporting meaningful and high-quality experiences (Felten and Lambert 2020). There is ample evidence that we connect with people who are like us—but how does this translate to how we structure mentoring and who gets mentored in our institutions? How does this translate to who has access to and participates in HIPs, which are often quality mentored experiences.

Perhaps we need to simultaneously think about how we mentor and are mentored by people with differing identities than us AND increase representation so people see more identity examples across the structures of academia and see people of differing identities holding leadership positions. There is some emerging work in this area for clinician development (Osman and Gottlieb 2018; online toolkit), law (Abbott 2006), and in higher education (Li, Malin, and Hackman 2018), but there isn’t much, and changes in mentoring practices are not necessarily following. This isn’t a challenge just in academia, but across multiple societal structures (e.g., wheel-mobility physicians; doctors with disabilities); but leaders across societal structures walk through the halls of academia, so our responsibility is pervasive.

As a woman in science, I was identified as the minority throughout my training and most of my mentors were male identified—the singular identity we differed. Oh the books and advice on how men should mentor women to increase representation and facilitate “breaking the glass ceiling” is fascinating and disturbing. We will talk about *that* in an upcoming blog post. Where are all the books and advice about mentoring across other identity differences? Where are the books that give advice from minority-identified (Black; disabled) colleagues of how to mentor or be mentored by majority-identified (white; able-bodied) colleagues?

Things that make you go hmm . . .

I plan to dive into these discussions this year as a CEL Scholar and I want to hear from you! What are your experiences, tips, tricks, and wisdom of mentoring across differences, especially in HIPs? I am certain that many of you as minority-identified academics are the experts. Email me at cketcham@elon.edu or tweet us at @Cel_Elon.

I am listening and coachable—maybe we should write a book.


Abbott, Ida O. 2006. “Overcoming Differences to Achieve Meaningful Mentored Relationships.” Diversity & the Bar March/April 2006. https://www.mcca.com/mcca-article/overcoming-differences/.

Bradley, Evan D., Michelle Bata, Heather M. Fitz Gibbon, Caroline J. Ketcham, Brittany A. Nicholson, and Meghan Pollack. 2017. “Structure of Mentoring in Undergraduate Research: Multi-mentor Models.” SPUR: Scholarship and Practice of Undergraduate Research 1 (2): 35-42. https://doi.org/10.18833/spur/1/2/12.  

Felten, Peter, and Leo M. Lambert. 2020. Relationship-Rich Education: How Human Connections Drive Success in College. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Festle, Mary Jo. 2020. Transforming History: A Guide to Effective, Inclusive, and Evidence-Based Teaching. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvzsmdp3.

Hall, Eric E., Elizabeth Bailey, Simon Higgins, Caroline J. Ketcham, Svetlana Nepocatych, and Matthew W. Wittstein. 2021. “Application of the Salient Practices Framework for Undergraduate Research Mentoring in Virtual Environments.” Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education 22(1), 22.1.92. https://doi.org/10.1128/jmbe.v22i1.2287.

Hall, Eric E., Elizabeth Bailey, Simon Higgins, Takudzwa Madzima, Svetlana Nepocatych, Matthew W. Wittstein, and Caroline J. Ketcham. 2020. “Lessons Learned from Mentoring Undergraduate Research this Summer: Salient Practices of Undergraduate Research Mentoring.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), July 17, 2020. https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/lessons-learned-from-mentoring-undergraduate-research-this-summer.

Ketcham, Caroline J., Eric E. Hall, Heather Fitz Gibbons, and Helen Walkington. 2018. “Co-mentoring in Undergraduate Research: A Faculty Development Perspective.” In Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research, edited by Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler, Paul C. Miller, and Jessie M. Moore. Council on Undergraduate Research: Washington D.C.

Ketcham, Caroline J., Eric E. Hall, and Paul C. Miller. 2017. “Co-mentoring Undergraduate Research: Student, Faculty and Institutional Perspectives.” PURM: Perspectives of Undergraduate Research Mentoring 6.1:1-13. https://www.elon.edu/u/academics/undergraduate-research/purm/wp-content/uploads/sites/923/2019/06/final_Ketcham-Hall-Miller_main.pdf.

Li, Shaobing, Joel R. Malin, and Donald G. Hackman. 2018. “Mentoring Supports and Mentoring across Difference: Insights from Mentees.” Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 26(5): 563-594. https://doi.org/10.1080/13611267.2018.1561020

Nicholson, Brittney A., Meghan Pollack, Caroline J. Ketcham, Heather M. Fitz Gibbon, Evan D. Bradley, and Michelle Bata. 2017. “Beyond the Mentor-Mentee Model: A Case for Multi-Mentoring in Undergraduate Research.” PURM: Perspectives of Undergraduate Research Mentoring 6.1:1-14. https://www.elon.edu/u/academics/undergraduate-research/purm/wp-content/uploads/sites/923/2019/06/Nicholson_et_al_6.1.pdf.

Osman, Nora Y., and Barbara Gottlieb. 2018. “Mentoring across Differences.” MedEdPORTAL 14:10743. https://doi.org/10.15766/mep_2374-8265.10743.

Vandermaas-Peeler, Maureen, Eric E. Hall, Caroline J. Ketcham, Amy Allocco, Mussa Idris, Jennifer A. Hamel, and David J. Marshal. In review. “Undergraduate Research in the Global Context: Models and Practices for High Quality Mentoring.” Mentoring and Tutoring: Partnership in Learning.

Vandermaas-Peeler, Maureen, and Caroline J. Ketcham. 2015. “Mentoring Relationships in Undergraduate Research.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), September 22, 2015. http://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/mentoring-relationships-in-undergraduate-research.

Walkington, Helen, Eric E. Hall, and Caroline J. Ketcham. In press. “Mentoring in Undergraduate Research – The Teacher’s Role.” In Cambridge Handbook on Undergraduate Research.

Caroline J. Ketcham is a professor of exercise science at Elon University, and she is the 2021-2023 Center for Engaged Learning Scholar. Dr. Ketcham’s CEL scholar project focuses on equity in high-impact practices (HIPs) for neurodiverse and physically disabled student populations.

How to Cite this Post

Ketcham, Caroline J. (2021, July). Mentoring Across Differences: An Upcoming Series of Conversations [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/mentoring-across-differences-an-upcoming-series-of-conversations.