By Paul A. Djupe
In a previous post, I shone a spotlight on Denison’s commitment to mentorship by showing its reported extent among students. It’s arguably one of the signature initiatives of the Weinberg administration, Denison is recognized for it, and you can see the messaging about it regularly. For instance, Denison’s national champion swim program was lauded in a tweet this way:
But does everyone find a mentor? While there are programs and seemingly boundless opportunities to put students in touch with faculty and staff, most mentoring relationships develop outside of formal programming. In this way, initiating what may develop into a mentorship relationship is a decidedly social act. Some students are very social; they are adept at approaching the professorial species and talking after class and in office hours is natural to them. We call them extraverts and extraversion is a finger of the so-called Big 5 personality traits. It strikes me as quite likely that this psychological disposition plays a key role in generating mentorship.
We asked 523 students in late February (22.3% response rate) a number of questions, including whether a professor, staff person, or student “was a mentor to me.” Overall, 72 percent claimed a professor at Denison was a mentor, 43 percent reported a staff mentor, and 69 percent noted a student mentor. 78 percent had either a staff or faculty mentor. These seem like great numbers to me, but there is still some variation to be explained. We also asked about personality traits like extraversion.
Here’s the punchline. Extraversion matters, but it is overcome by the varied opportunity structure Denison provides. As shown in the figure below, extraversion has a strong relationship with reporting a faculty mentor. Half of the most introverted first years report a faculty mentor; that figure increases by 28 points (.49 to .77) for the most extraverted. But by senior year there is no disparity in mentorship between introverts and extraverts. This is good news.
How exactly does that work? One way introverts help to generate social ties is through organizational involvement, which is much less horrifying than having to walk up to someone and say hello. Involvement opportunities, of course, are also available in ample amounts at Denison. If this notion is true, then introverts should be more likely to have a mentor the more involved they are (whether through social practice or through networks or something else). The results below show just that – involvement levels have no bearing on whether extraverts have a faculty mentor (note the essentially flat blue line), but involvement matters greatly for introverts (each involvement is estimated to increase the likelihood of mentorship by 7%).
Lest you think these dynamics are limited to faculty mentors, well, they’re not. There are sizeable gaps in mentorship between introverts and extraverts of about 40% for student mentorship and 31% for staff mentorship. Those gaps can close (see below), but it takes herculean amounts of campus activity (5-6! That’s too much, don’t do it) to bridge the divide. And, of course, extraverts are more involved in campus anyway (by about 1 activity more). Again, involvement has no added effect on extraverts finding these mentors.
For many students, mentorship is relatively easy to acquire. As I argued in the other post, good mentoring relationships develop out of or resemble healthy relationships. Extraverts give themselves many opportunities for this by dint of their personality. Introverts less so. But the chronic availability of faculty through courses and other opportunities helps to close the gap by the time they graduate. And, in the meantime, campus involvement helps connect students to the social and even professorial worlds. Without the tremendous involvement-industrial complex at Denison, I would be worried that introverts would be flying solo, just how they think they like it.
1. I continually debate whether I am going to write extrAverted or extrOverted. Turns out either is acceptable, Latin scholars will push for the A version, and most psychologists apparently use the A. I’ll use the A word. See this short piece in Scientific American.
2. Extraversion is captured with responses to two items, which is not ideal, but a necessary concession to omnibus surveys with limited space for any particular concept. The preamble was, “We’d like to know a little about how you see yourself in general. Here are pairs of words that may or may not describe you. Please consider each pair, and indicate the extent to which you agree/disagree that it applies to you. You should rate the extent to which the pair applies to you, even if one word applies more strongly than the other. I see myself as…” Then the specific pairs were: “extraverted, enthusiastic” and “reserved, quiet.” Extraverts agree with the first pair and disagree with the second (1-7 scale condensed to 0-1). Here is the distribution of extraversion in the Denison sample.