Over the summer, I was reintroduced to the literature surrounding peer mentoring as a result of being a co-leader for the Center for Engaged Learning Research Seminar – (Re)Examining Conditions for Meaningful Learning Experiences. My lens through which I often think about peer mentoring is related to my work on undergraduate research mentoring. Peer mentoring comes into play in salient practice nine, where we suggest that mentors should create intentional opportunities for peers to learn mentoring skills (Shanahan et al. 2015). This is a place where, with experience, students can learn leadership and teaching skills that can be applied in other contexts besides research. More recently, when co-writing a blog post about mentoring with mental health in mind, I started thinking more about the distinction between what the mentor and mentee each get out of these peer mentoring relationships and why these are often created. In the context of research, we often create an “apprenticeship” model where younger or less experienced students learn skills and possibly values of the lab from a more experienced mentor (Vandermaas-Peeler et al. 2011). As noted above, for the peer mentor, we hope they might learn leadership and teaching skills that can translate to other areas of development.

A recent review of the mentoring research suggests that career function and psychosocial aspects are the primary functions of traditional mentoring relationships (Mullen and Klimaitis 2021). They suggest that more recently the psychosocial aspects are becoming more important in these relationships and what people hope to get out of mentoring relationships. Peer mentoring is one form of mentorship to help with these needs. A specific psychosocial need that is often the focus of mentoring relationships is developing a feeling of belonging. This sense of belonging on a college campus is known to be strongly related to student success (Strayhorn 2008, 2012; McCabe 2016).

Many peer mentoring programs are developed to specifically target new students coming into universities and attempt to create cohorts of students to learn from similar peers (e.g., student-athletes, honors students, etc.) with hopes of addressing mentees’ needs for belonging as they transition to the university (Akinla, Hagan, and Atiomo 2018; Collings, Swanson, and Watkins 2014; D’Abate 2009; Holt and Fifer 2018). These peer mentoring programs are often targeted towards certain demographic variables such as race, ethnicity, social economic status or first generation in an effort to promote inclusivity on college campuses (Alcocer and Martinez 2018; Booker and Brevard Jr. 2017; Plaskett et al. 2018).

One way to continue to build on these themes of inclusivity may be to consider the integration of students-as-partners pedagogy to help create and implement peer mentoring programs (Seery et al. 2021; O’Shea, Bennett, and Delahunty 2017). The benefit of including students in the development of the program is that they will have a common lived experience as the students that they want to mentor and may have unique ideas on how to reach them. A recent book has examined how pedagogical partnerships can be used as a way to promote equity and justice in higher education by remedying epistemic, affective, and ontological harms experienced (De Bie et al. 2021). This framework could be useful in the consideration of the creation of peer mentoring programs that will meet the needs of both the mentees and mentors, especially if the goal is to help create a more inclusive environment to enhance a sense of belonging.

For peer mentoring programs to be successful, there needs to be intentional creation of these programs with the needs of both the mentor and mentee in mind. I am hopeful that we will learn more about the effectiveness and utility of peer mentoring programs through the Center for Engaged Learning research seminar team that will be examining various peer mentoring programs. We will be sure to update you here about what we learn from them in the future.


Akinla, Olawunmi, Pamela Hagan, and William Atiomo. 2018. “A Systematic Review of the Literature Describing the Outcomes of Near-Peer Mentoring Programs for First Year Medical Students.” BMC Medical Education 18 (1): 98. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12909-018-1195-1.

Alcocer, Luis F., and Andres Martinez. 2018. “Mentoring Hispanic Students: A Literature Review.” Journal of Hispanic Higher Education 17 (4): 393–401. https://doi.org/10.1177/1538192717705700.

Booker, Keonya, and Ernest Brevard Jr. 2017. “Why Mentoring Matters: African-American Students and the Transition to College.” The Mentor: Innovative Scholarship on Academic Advising 19. https://doi.org/10.26209/MJ1961245.

Collings, R., V. Swanson, and R. Watkins. 2014. “The Impact of Peer Mentoring on Levels of Student Wellbeing, Integration and Retention: A Controlled Comparative Evaluation of Residential Students in UK Higher Education.” Higher Education 68 (6): 927–42. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-014-9752-y.

D’Abate, Caroline P. 2009. “Defining Mentoring in the First-Year Experience: One Institution’s Approach to Clarifying the Meaning of Mentoring First-Year Students.” Journal of the First-Year Experience & Students in Transition 21 (1): 65–91.

De Bie, Alise, Elizabeth Marquis, Alison Cook-Sather, and Leslie Patricia Luqueno. 2021. Promoting Equity and Justice Through Pedagogical Partnership. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Holt, Laura J., and James E. Fifer. 2018. “Peer Mentor Characteristics that Predict Supportive Relationships with First-Year Students: Implications for Peer Mentor Programming and First-Year Student Retention.” Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice 20 (1): 67–91. https://doi.org/10.1177/1521025116650685.

McCabe, Janice M. 2016. Connecting in College: How Friendship Networks Matter for Academic and Social Success. Chicago ; London: The University of Chicago Press.

Mullen, Carol A., and Cindy C. Klimaitis. 2021. “Defining Mentoring: A Literature Review of Issues, Types, and Applications.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1483 (1): 19–35. https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.14176.

O’Shea, Sarah, Sue Bennett, and Janine Delahunty. 2017. “Engaging ‘Students as Partners’ in the Design and Development of a Peer-Mentoring Program.” Student Success 8 (2): 113–16. https://doi.org/10.5204/ssj.v8i2.390.

Plaskett, Sean, Diksha Bali, Michael J. Nakkula, and John Harris. 2018. “Peer Mentoring to Support First-Generation Low-Income College Students.” Phi Delta Kappan 99 (7): 47–51. https://doi.org/10.1177/0031721718767861.

Seery, Christina, Andrea Andres, Niamh Moore-Cherry, and Sara O’Sullivan. 2021. “Students as Partners in Peer Mentoring: Expectations, Experiences and Emotions.” Innovative Higher Education, May. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10755-021-09556-8.

Shanahan, Jenny Olin, 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 (5): 359–76. https://doi.org/10.1080/13611267.2015.1126162.

Strayhorn, Terrell L. 2008. “The Role of Supportive Relationships in Facilitating African American Males’ Success in College.” Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice 45 (1). https://doi.org/10.2202/1949-6605.1906.

Strayhorn, Terrell L. 2012. College Students’ Sense of Belonging: A Key to Educational Success for All Students. New York: Routledge.

Vandermaas-Peeler, Maureen, Jackie A. Nelson, Larissa Ferretti, and Lauren Finn. 2011. “Developing Expertise: An Apprenticeship Model of Mentoring Undergraduate Research across Cohorts.” Perspectives on Undergraduate Research and Mentoring 1 (1): 1–10. https://www.elon.edu/u/academics/undergraduate-research/purm/wp-content/uploads/sites/923/2019/06/PURM-1-1-MVP1.pdf.

Eric Hall is a professor of exercise science at Elon University, served as the inaugural CEL Senior Scholar, and co-leads the 2020-2023 research seminar on (Re)Examining Conditions for Meaningful Learning Experiences.

How to cite this post

Hall, Eric E. 2021. “Peer Mentoring for Belonging, Inclusion, and Student Development.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. December 28, 2021. https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/peer-mentoring-for-belonging-inclusion-and-student-development.