Mentor connectionDesigning an experience for a mentoring platform for SJSU students
The ProblemSan Jose State University is a California state college with a hidden secret: it is located in the heart of Silicon Valley. SJSU is the number one supplier of education, engineering, computer science, and business graduates to Silicon Valley. Though 75% of SJSU alumni are based in the Bay Area, there currently is not an easy way for its alumni to connect to current students. How do we match our well-connected, busy alumni schedules with an SJSU student, who is also juggling their new college schedule? The following is the design process I followed in tackling this problem.
Mentoring has been something close and personal to me for a long time. I was the neighborhood babysitter in high school, a camp counselor in college, and as I got to college, I pursued a degree in art education at SJSU. Once I landed my first job at Adobe out of college, I had an opportunity to join Adobe’s Education outreach cohort. Serving as the liaison with mentoring and education outreach programs in the Bay Area, I connected programs to the local employees in the Adobe San Jose office. With that exposure, I saw many different formats of mentoring programs – all trying to get the “busy professional” connected to information-hungry students.
One of the mentoring programs that stood out as a leader was the iMentor program. Rather than always facilitating the recruitment of mentors to this program, I was heavily persuaded by learning about the effectiveness of the iMentor program – to become a mentor myself. I was a busy, working professional, but wanted to participate in this program since it set clear expectations for my time, and I felt that I could give a real positive impact to a student who wanted my time. The iMentor program is based in much research on what makes mentoring successful in low-income students: fostering an emotional connection, building strong relationships, and providing education on skills necessary to navigate personal and academic challenges.
In addition to my own experience, I also dug deep into some research done on the mentor/mentee experience. Many of the studies echoed the methodology foundation of the iMentor program. I am highlighting some of the critical findings that informed my approach below (studies are included at the bottom of this page):
- Emotional connection is seen in several studies as a vital factor in effective mentoring. When the pair has a strong bond, the mentorship is most effective.
- Setting a clear purpose of the mentorship. When both parties of mentorship are clear on expectations, both sides feel that it results in a positive mentoring experience.
- The most effective mentor/mentee relationships are ones that are guided through a specific process.
Applicable mentors would be constricted to SJSU alumni, based in the Bay Area.
For an initial roll-out of this program, mentee applicants would be constrained to incoming Freshman, or students in their first year at SJSU (includes transfer students). All of these applicants would have already been issued an SJSU email and confirmed admission/acceptance to SJSU.
The studies that emphasized emotional bonds in the mentor/mentee relationship did not necessarily highlight the emphasis on direct connections to particular interests. That being said, when you have a mentorship that is facilitated through an app (like this project), it helps that the mentor/mentee have similar initial connections to foster a superficial connection initially.
Armed with my research, it was clear I needed to create a platform that could apply a guided program for the mentors/mentees. The program also needed to facilitate the emotional bond that needs to grow between a mentor and mentee. The program material would be guided and focused around helping the typical mentee first year in college struggles.
PersonasThe following personas helped to inform my design and customer journey workflow.
Define the overall customer workflow
Full scale workflow for the mentor + mentee journey of initiating a mentorship through the application.
After downloading the application
View of customer journey after downloading the application. The user is presented with two actions.
Once the user has initiated the download of the app, clear expectations are set in the initial welcome screens. Expectations of the required involvement for the mentee and the mentor will help to build an honest relationship between a mentor and mentee.
The user has the option to bypass the onboarding screens to either sign in or sign up.
You can see those specific prototype comps: Onboarding screens, and action screens.
Sign up — the Application
During the signup process, the user can select to be a mentor or a mentee. The mentor and mentee have tailored sign-up forms. See the Mentor application and the Mentee application.
As the user completes an application, the “matching” can happen. To complete a match, one date in common in the availability data has to match between a mentor and mentee. There are 4 identified other match details, only 2 need to match to require a solid match.
As the user completes an application, the “matching” can happen. To complete a match, one date in common in the available data has to match between a mentor and mentee. There are four identified other match details, and only two need to match to require a fixed match.
Pairs can be created by matching two of the four aspects of data below:
- Alumni major and the mentee’s declared major
- Alumni current employment/job, and the mentee’s current aspirations for future employment
- Alumni identifying the struggles they had in college and the mentee’s ongoing struggles with school
- Alumni extracurriculars and the mentee extracurriculars
On the application submittal screen, the mentor and mentee are informed that they would be notified of their match. There is an included sentence to set an expectation, on how long it takes to get a match.
The above illustrates some of the first possible interactions in the application upon a mentor/mentee match.
After a mentor and mentee are matched, communication to the mentor and the mentee are made to each, informing them of the pairing. Each can see one another’s match and confirm on a mutual day of the week to meet for video/virtual meetings. The mentor and the mentee have a choice to interact for the first time on the chat platform or complete a prompt to help break the ice and initiate a starter conversation.
The first prompt of the program is initiated in the initial onboarding. The mentor gets a chance to elaborate a little more in depth about some of the struggles that they had in college. The mentee gets to read and respond with any of their concerns. Each prompt helps to build an emotional bond between the mentor and the mentee. The following prompt is initiated once they both complete their previous prompts. With the date that they both set for a virtual meeting, they will complete the remaining prompts in their weekly meetings. The prompts help guide the match by creating an emotional connection.
Beyond what is in the prototype, the program would evolve to start tackling college issues that we touched upon in the research and the persona stage. The first year and entry college students often juggle with time management, efficient class planning, financial management, and practical studying skills (to name a few). The ideal program would evolve around prompts that help guide the mentor and mentee to discuss these issues together, allowing the mentor to give any guidance.
PrototypeView the MVP prototype here.
During the design process, I was trying to make up my mind whether it should be in the colors that would most identify with the school (yellow and blue). Since this project would be viewed remotely, I wanted to make the association clear from a first glance. As next steps, I would like to take this color theme to the next stage and evolve it past the direct reference to the theme colors like it is now in the comps provided.
The imagery would also have to be developed overall. The "logo" currently in the comps provided is as a placeholder and would need to be developed to align to the more evolved color story. The initial screens have placeholder elements that would be replaced with some illustrations or photography depending on the direction of the design.
From experience, meeting my mentee in person was a great way to get comfortable with each other. That "in-person" meeting is why there is a weekly "video/virtual" chat in the “SJSU Mentor Connection” model. The virtual meeting could be achievable for a busy professional, as they would not need to commute, and could change the meeting time if a conflict occurs. As this design exercise progressed, I had a nagging feeling of wondering how long engagement would last. Would they only get past a few prompts together? This is something that would be nice to focus on through interviews and testing. How long would both parties see this engagement lasting? Are weekly meetings too frequent?
Developing and Sustaining Successful Mentoring Relationships. Peter Hudson. Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Working Alliance as a Moderator of the Impact of Mentoring Relationships Among Academically At‐Risk Students. Journal of Applied Social Psychology