by Sophia Abbot

The reality of intensive pedagogical partnership programs is that there will always be more willing and capable students than there is room to partner. On a mathematical level, this makes sense. There are far fewer faculty at a university than there are students, even while schools work to reduce their student-faculty ratios. But this still means that in one-to-one partnerships, there will always be more students.This challenge is true for undergraduate research mentorship relationships, too — there are only so many students one can effectively (and deeply!) mentor.

So what do we do?

Partnership and mentorship can complement each other here. In Engaging Students as Partners in Teaching and Learning, Alison Cook-Sather, Cathy Bovill, and Peter Felten (2014) offer countless examples of faculty adopting a partnership ethos in their classrooms. In the section on assessing student work, for example, we see the case of Susan Deeley at the University of Glasgow, who has students co-generate their final paper grading criteria (Cook-Sather et al., 2014, p. 49-50). Students in her class reported developing a stronger understanding of the assignment expectations and a deeper sense of how this element of teaching works. I had my own experience of in-class partnership and its subsequent benefits during a recent course I took on Engaged Learning for my current masters degree. We co-developed our criteria for strong classroom participation and ideal group-work. Having participated in this process, my group was able to work together much more effectively, because we felt a sense of ownership of the criteria and a shared understanding of why we valued particular working traits and attitudes.

Is this partnership? Perhaps not between the professor and every student, but absolutely among the students in the class. Partnership as defined by Cook-Sather, Bovill, and Felten (2014) is a reciprocal, trust-filled process in which everyone participates equitably, if not equally, to contribute to a shared goal. I would suggest that when elements of this practice are fostered at scale, we are applying a partnership ethos to the class. The transparency, agency, and collaboration present in these kinds of processes are a definite improvement for equitable student learning than the more traditional knowledge-banking models of the past.

In a similar vein, in Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research, Brad Wuetherick, John Willison, and Jenny Olin Shanahan have a chapter on “Mentored Undergraduate Research at Scale” (2018). In the video below, Willison talks about the value of giving all students access to mentored undergraduate research through an in-class research experience. Just as an in-class partnership experience can strengthen a broader partnership ethos, John describes such research experiences as helping students become more research-minded.

Wuetherick, Willison, and Shanahan share an example of an undergraduate thesis in English required at St. Mary’s University in Minnesota (2018, p. 189-190). After redesigning the curriculum, the faculty in the department of English included research-based assignments throughout their upper division coursework so students practice their inquiry skills. The culture of the department shifted as a result, and “students began discussing the senior thesis as an exciting goal to be achieved” (2018, p. 190) rather than an anxiety-inducing requirement to be checked off.

When we embed elements of partnership or mentorship in the curriculum, we make space for new possibilities in learning. In both cases, a partnership ethos and a research-mindedness reflect a cultural change in which students feel more empowered to direct their learning experience. The result of this infusion across the curriculum not only makes deep and transformative learning experience accessible for more students, but it also makes success more attainable. That’s exciting for higher education as a whole.


  • Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C., & Felten, P. (2014). Engaging students as partners in learning and teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Wuetherick, B., Willison, J.W. & Shanahan, J.O. (2018). Mentored undergraduate research at scale: Undergraduate research in the curriculum and as pedagogy. In M. Vandermaas-Peeler, P.C. Miller, & J.L. Moore (Eds.), Excellence in mentoring undergraduate research (181-202). Washington, DC: CUR.

Sophia Abbot is the 2018-2020 Center for Engaged Learning Graduate Apprentice and a student in the Masters of Higher Education program at Elon University.

How to cite this post:

Abbot, Sophia. 2019, April 10. Partnership and mentorship at scale: A matter of inclusion. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from