In order to enhance young children’s learning in the course of everyday interactions, parents often facilitate the acquisition of new knowledge by bridging, or establishing a connection between something familiar and something new (Vandermaas-Peeler, Westerberg, and Fleishman 2019). In a recent study, for example, a mother and child were playing an animal identification game and came across an animal the child didn’t recognize. Her mother explained what a “wild boar” is by saying, “He looks like a really hairy but grumpy pig.” She was bridging her daughter’s understanding by comparing the boar to a familiar animal, a pig, but also noted several distinguishing characteristics of boars (hairy and grumpy looking). While playing the same game, another pair was talking about sleeping bears when the child announced, “I’ve seen a sleeping bear before!” His mother looked very surprised, so he explained, “You have too! At the science museum!” In their communications, parents and children frequently referenced shared experiences or events to establish both cognitive and emotional connections between the past and present. As one mother told her child at the end of the game, “I did not know, Adam, that a moose was considered a deer. Did you? You did? Oh, you learn something new every day!”

Within a sociocultural framework of development, learning is conceptualized as a social process in which we make meaning and co-construct knowledge of the world through everyday interactions with others (Rogoff 1990; Vygotsky 1978). From this perspective, bridging is recognized as an effective support for knowledge acquisition. In our study, bridges constructed by parents and children were often accompanied by positive affect and mutual regard. Bridging can also build intersubjectivity, or mutual engagement and a shared focus of attention, to facilitate guided learning (Matusov 2001; Rogoff 1990). Thus, establishing new connections between the past and the present can deepen shared understanding and foster socio-emotional connections in collaborative learning interactions.

Mentoring also involves the co-construction of knowledge in collaborative, guided, and emotionally supportive interactions (Johnson 2016; Shanahan et al. 2015; Vandermaas-Peeler 2016). I served as the undergraduate research mentor for my two co-authors of the parent-child study referenced above. Early in the research process, Lauren and Hailey applied what they learned in the classroom to our research context, bridging known to new. Using frameworks and methods based on my previous research, we co-created new coding schemes to analyze these complex interactions between parents and children. Using the new coding software, Dedoose, was unfortunately not in the realm of my expertise, however. As part of her Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE), Lauren spent a summer learning Dedoose through processes of trial and error, and then she shared her new knowledge with Hailey and me. We also developed social connections through events such as lab breakfasts and dinners at my home. We experienced the typical roller coaster of emotions associated with publication, including the pain of rejection, the pleasure of positive reviews, and eventually, the joy of seeing our work in print. Our connections extended well beyond the research and transcended matriculation from Elon, an experience that is not uncommon in Elon’s relationship-rich environment (Felten and Lambert 2020).

Mentoring relationships are intentional, sustained, reciprocal, and developmental, with the goal of helping students develop personally and professionally (Crisp et al. 2017; Eby, Rhodes, and Allen 2010; Johnson 2016). They involve evolutionary and dynamic processes, shifting over time to adapt to new contexts, identities, and skills (Irby 2013; Johnson 2016). Lauren is now obtaining a PhD, studying children’s early math and science learning at Purdue University, and our relationship has evolved accordingly. I feel incredibly grateful and proud that she went to Purdue with a strong research foundation upon which to bridge and build new knowledge, and I continue to learn from and with her. She is well on her way to developing her own identity as a scholar and professional in the field of human development, and the fact that she is the lead author of our recent co-authored publication reflects her growing autonomy (Westerberg and Vandermaas-Peeler 2021).

The developmental and dynamic nature of mentoring relationships creates unique challenges for research, evaluation, and assessment. Seldom have mentoring relationships been studied over time and across contexts. Research typically captures only one perspective, usually that of the mentee, and often at only one time of measurement. Thus, the evolution of mentoring processes across a continuum is not well-established. How do mentors adapt to meet the changing needs of their mentees? How does the role of the mentee transform over the course of the mentoring relationship? How do mentors and mentees bridge new and known information to facilitate knowledge acquisition and intersubjectivity? How do specific mentoring practices influence personal and professional outcomes? In sum, more information about the nature of mentoring relationships and the dynamic sociocultural contexts in which they occur is needed. As I wrote in a recent CEL blog post, we know even less about how students build mentoring constellations, or networks, and how these webs of support connect to their academic, social, personal, cultural, and career-focused development.

At Elon, we are fortunate to have an opportunity to study and reflect on mentoring relationships through our participation in the American Council on Education (ACE) Learner Success Lab (LSL). In a twelve-month self-assessment focused on mentoring for learner success, two working groups are examining mentoring in the curriculum and in the co-curriculum. A third group is examining opportunities for mentoring partnerships within and beyond Elon University, including student employment, alumni engagement, and Alamance County community partnerships, among others. And finally, the research working group is examining extant scholarship of mentoring and mentoring programs in higher education as well as planning new research initiatives at Elon. The steering committee members are listed at the end of this blog post.

As the self-study progresses, we are working collaboratively to extend our knowledge of mentoring relationships and establish connections between scholarship and practice. Where are the gaps in our knowledge? What can we learn from programs at other universities that might apply to mentoring at Elon? What is working well, and where are the opportunities for growth? How can we bridge known and new as we consider the mentoring initiatives in Boldly Elon, the university’s new strategic plan? We anticipate having many additional campus partners in this work, and we invite you to share your thoughts and ideas with us as well. We will continue to share information about the process and our findings as the self-study progresses, and we welcome your input any time. Feel free to get in touch with us or send an email to  

The ACE Learner Success Lab Committee

Leadership Team:

Amy Allocco – Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Multifaith Scholars Program (Co-facilitator of the Curriculum Working Group)

Nancy Carpenter – Assistant Director of Career Services for Student Employment (Co-facilitator of the Partnerships Working Group)

Sylvia Muñoz – Associate Director of Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education (Co-facilitator of the Co-curriculum Working Group)

Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler – Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Research on Global Engagement (Co-facilitator of the Research Working Group)

Committee Members:

  • Stephanie Baker – Assistant Professor of Public Health Studies (Co-facilitator of the Curriculum Working Group)
  • Vanessa Bravo – Associate Professor and Chair of Strategic Communications
  • Steve DeLoach – Professor and Chair of Economics
  • Marcus Elliott – Director of Odyssey Scholars Program
  • Bob Frigo – Associate Director of the Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement  (Co-facilitator of the Partnerships Working Group)
  • Shannon Lundeen – Director of Academic-Residential Partnerships and Associate Professor of Philosophy (Co-facilitator of the Co-curriculum Working Group)
  • Jessie Moore – Director of Center for Engaged Learning and Professor of English (Co-facilitator of the Research Working Group)
  • Scott Morrison – Associate Professor of Education
  • Tim Peeples – Senior Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs and Professor of English
  • Brandy Propst – Director of Elon 101 and Assistant Director of Academic Advising
  • Sandra Reid – Lecturer in Human Service Studies
  • Joan Ruelle – Dean of the Library and Associate Professor
  • Evan Small – Assistant Director of Campus Recreation and Wellness for Experiential Learning and Outdoor Adventures and Instructor in Wellness
  • Sean Walker – Media Services Lead


Crisp, Gloria, Vicki L. Baker, Kimberly A. Griffin, Laura Gail Lunsford, and Meghan J. Pifer. 2017. “Mentoring Undergraduate Students.” ASHE Higher Education Report 43, no. 1. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Eby, Lillian T., Jean E. Rhodes, and Tammy D. Allen. 2010. “Definition and Evolution of Mentoring.” In Blackwell Handbook of Mentoring, A Multiple Perspectives Approach, 7-20. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.  

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

Irby, Beverly J. 2013. “Editor’s Overview: Defining Developmental Relationships in Mentoring for Mentor/Mentee Dyads, for Mentors, and for Mentoring Programs.” Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning 21, no. 4: 333-337.

Matusov, Eugene. 2001. “Intersubjectivity as a Way of Informing Teaching Design for a Community of Learners Classroom.” Teaching and Teacher Education 17, no. 4: 383–402.

Rogoff, Barbara. 1990. Apprenticeship in Thinking: Cognitive Development in Social Context. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Shanahan, Jenny O., Elizabeth Ackley-Holbrook, Eric Hall, Kearsley Stewart, and Helen Walkington. 2015. “Ten Salient Practices of Undergraduate Research Mentors: A Review of the Literature.” Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning 23, no. 5: 359–376.

Vandermaas-Peeler, Maureen. 2016. “Mentoring Undergraduate Research: Student and Faculty Participation in Communities of Practice.” Transformative Dialogues: Teaching and Learning eJournal 9, no. 1: 1-10.

Vandermaas-Peeler, Maureen.,  Lauren Westerberg, and Hailey Fleishman. 2019. “Bridging Known and New: Inquiry and Intersubjectivity in Parent-Child Interactions.” Learning, Culture and Social Interaction 21: 124-135.

Vygotsky, Lev S. 1978. Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Westerberg, Lauren, and Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler. 2021. “How Teachers, Peers, and Classroom Materials Support Children’s Inquiry in a Reggio Emilia-Inspired Preschool.” Early Child Development and Care

Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler is a Professor of Psychology who came to Elon University in 1995.  Her scholarly interests include children’s learning in collaborative, authentic experiences; adult guidance of children’s inquiry and discovery; sociocultural and global contexts of learning; and undergraduate research mentoring. Maureen co-led the Center’s 2014-2016 research seminar on Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research. Maureen is now serving as the Director of Elon’s new Center for Research on Global Engagement, and in this role she fosters the scholarship of global engagement on campus and with national and international collaborators.

How to cite this post

Vandermaas-Peeler, Maureen. (2021, March 30).  Mentoring for Learner Success: Bridging Known and New [Blog Post]. Retrieved from