Site Index | Site Tour

    or   Search Tips

National Center on Secondary Education and Transition: Creating opportunities for youth with disabilities to achieve successful futures.

State Contacts
Web Sites

E-mail this page

Mentoring Youth in Transition

Frequently Asked Questions

How can mentoring be a meaningful experience for youth with disabilities?

Research on widely recognized mentoring organizations, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, holds that mentoring can change the direction of a young person’s life, reduce substance abuse, and improve academic performance (Sipe & Roder, 1999; Beier, Rosenfeld, Spitalny, Zansky, & Bontempo, 2000). In a longitudinal study of Big Brothers Big Sisters participants, researchers found that "mentoring…directly affected scholastic competence and school attendance, which suggests that, through role modeling, tutoring, and encouragement, mentors can influence both the cognitive and behavioral dimensions of adolescents’ approach to school" (Rhodes, Grossman, & Resch, 2000, p. 1667). In addition, youth development literature asserts that in order to succeed, youth need caring adult role models (Search Institute Web Site, 2010; Big Brothers Big Sisters of America Web Site, n.d.). For young people with disabilities, mentoring can impact many of the goals that are part of the transition process, including:

  • succeeding academically
  • understanding the adult world
  • developing career awareness
  • accepting support while taking responsibility
  • communicating effectively
  • overcoming barriers
  • developing social skills

[Rhodes et al., 2000; Campbell-Whatley, 2001]

When mentors are successfully employed, mentoring can provide connections for youth within the world of work, opening possibilities for employment. Thus, mentoring can be a dynamic catalyst for the achievement of transition goals.

How does mentoring affect students’ social, academic, and career development?

Some mentoring programs actively seek to improve career readiness, and others address students’ social and academic development. In the case of programs that seek to improve career readiness, mentors are usually people who are successfully employed or retired, who can directly discuss career issues and provide guidance to mentees. Mentors may assist mentees in career exploration, educational pursuits, the job search process, and career transitions. Mentors may also provide technical information and assistance with skill development in a particular career field.

In other cases, the connection may be less direct, however, as Rhodes et al. (2000) point out, "By conveying messages regarding the value of school and serving as tangible models of success, mentors may stimulate adolescents’ improved attitude toward school achievement, perceived academic competence, and school performance, as well as adolescents’ beliefs about the relationship between educational attainment and future occupational opportunities." In all mentoring programs, including those not focused on career readiness, mentoring tends to positively impact communication skills, interpersonal effectiveness, social skills, and self-confidence—all of which affect students’ career readiness (Grossman, 1999).

Are there different types of youth mentoring?

Mentoring can take many different forms. It can occur both one-on-one and in small groups, with various combinations of mentor/mentee matches. Mentoring can take place through personal meetings, e-mail exchanges, telephone conversations, letters, or any other form of correspondence. Perhaps the most commonly recognized model is a face-to-face, one-on-one, community-based model, such as the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. However, mentoring can also be done in groups, through schools, or through businesses or community agencies.

In community-based mentoring, volunteers from the community are matched with youth, and generally focus on building relationships and impacting students’ social activities. Most activities take place outside of the school and work environments. In school-based mentoring, adults are matched with children through their school classroom, and most activities take place during school hours, often with an academic or career related focus (Sipe & Roder, 1999).

In other instances, employers themselves run mentoring programs. For example, a group of employee mentors may be matched with students in a specific classroom or school. Another option is group mentoring, in which one mentor is matched with a small group of mentees.

A new model that is increasing in popularity is "e-mentoring." In this case, the mentor and mentee communicate via e-mail. E-mentoring is generally school-based, and frequently focuses on career or academic achievement and improvement. An example of e-mentoring is the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition’s Connecting to Success program, in which students are matched with employees of a partner business and communicate via e-mail over the course of the academic year.

What special considerations are needed for mentoring youth with disabilities?

Those who run mentoring programs for youth with disabilities should carefully consider the training to be provided for mentors and mentees. Issues such as boundaries, disclosure of disability-related information, mandatory reporting, responsibilities, and expectations should be made clear from the outset. In addition, youth with disabilities may face physical, psychological, emotional, and institutional barriers while pursuing their goals. An effective mentoring program will seek mentors with an understanding of the determination and perseverance these youth need to overcome barriers. Mentors should also possess acceptance of youth at their current level of development, while holding high expectations for future achievement (Campbell-Whatley, 2001).

Some key concepts to keep in mind in setting up mentoring for youth with disabilities include:

  • Youth and their disabilities vary widely, and what works for one young person may not work for another. Establish a clear structure, but be flexible about handling the disclosure of disability-related information, the use of accommodations, and matching of protégés with mentors.
  • Mentors need support. They need to know that their efforts are having an impact. Program staff can support mentors by periodically communicating with them about the progress or challenges in the mentoring process. Periodic meetings that encourage discussion among mentors and program staff may provide some of the support mentors need.
  • Mentors should have thorough training. Follow-up training or refresher training may also benefit mentors as they become more deeply immersed in the mentoring process. Do not assume that an initial training is all that mentors need.
  • Find out whether youth are motivated to participate before launching them into a mentoring relationship. Mentors and the organizations they represent can be disappointed and discontinue their participation if youth do not sincerely engage in the mentoring process.
  • Ensure that ongoing communication between mentors and mentees is regularly facilitated. If a lapse in time occurs between contacts, participants can become frustrated and withdraw from the mentoring relationship, even if the lapse was due to a misunderstanding or miscommunication.
  • Build into the mentoring program an adequate means of screening mentors or other safeguards. Some programs have complete background checks done on all mentors. Other programs have safeguards built into the structure of the activities (e.g., all activities occur at the school, all activities occur online, all activities are monitored, etc.).
  • A mandatory consent form parents must sign for their children to participate in the program. It is very important that parents are aware that their children are participating in the program and are consulted before any information about their child is shared with the mentor.

[Campbell-Whatley, 2001; Sipe & Roder, 1999]

What are the benefits of mentoring?

In order to be truly effective, a mentoring program should benefit all participants, not just the student. Additionally, it is crucial that the mentoring program be well-run, with training and support available for all participants. Keeping this in mind, research has reported that some of the most common positive effects of mentoring for mentors include:

  • feelings of accomplishment and creation of networks of volunteers
  • increased self-esteem
  • insight into childhood and adolescence
  • personal gain, such as increased patience, a sense of effectiveness, or acquisition of new skills or knowledge

[Herrera, 2004; Rhodes et al., 2000; Sipe & Roder, 1999]

Additionally, studies have found that mentors who participate in programs through their workplaces also report that mentoring positively impacts their attitude at work, helps them build teamwork skills, and exposes them to new situations in which to use those skills. Organizations report that employees who mentor help them to increase productivity, improve community relations, and contribute to recruitment and retention.

For mentees, some of the most commonly reported benefits of mentoring include:

  • a lower likelihood that they will initiate drug and alcohol use
  • better attitudes toward school and the future
  • increased feelings of competency about their ability to do well in school
  • improved academic performance
  • more positive relationships with friends and family

[Beier et al., 2000; Campbell-Whatley, 2001; Sipe & Roder, 1999]

How does mentoring differ from job shadowing?

Mentoring takes place within an ongoing relationship that involves frequent interaction, whether through face-to-face meetings, letters, e-mail, or telephone conversations. Mentoring may also involve meetings that take place at the mentor’s workplace. Such meetings are part of an ongoing relationship focused on the development of abilities within the protégé.

In contrast, job shadowing is a career exploration activity in which the person involved in career exploration visits an employed person at his or her work site, giving them the opportunity to experience the work environment and learn first-hand exactly what the job entails (Lozada, 2001). Job shadowing is not designed to facilitate the development of an ongoing relationship, and it does not usually involve the same level of commitment as mentoring.


Beier, S. R., Rosenfeld, W. D., Spitalny, K. C., Zansky, S. M., & Bontempo, A. N. (2000). The potential role of an adult mentor in influencing high-risk behaviors in adolescents. Archive of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 154, 327-331.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America Web Site. (n.d.). About BBBSA. Retrieved from

Campbell-Whatley, G. (2001). Mentoring students with mild disabilities: The “nuts and bolts” of program development. Intervention in School and Clinic, 36, 211-216.

Grossman, J. B., ed. (1999). Contemporary issues in mentoring. Retrieved from

Herrera, C. (2004). School-based mentoring: A closer look. Retrieved from

Lozada, M. (2001). Job shadowing: Career exploration at work. Techniques, 76, 30-34.

Rhodes, J. E., Grossman, J. B., & Resch, N. L. (2000). Agents of change: Pathways through which mentoring relationships influence adolescents’ academic adjustment. Child Development, 71, 1662-1671.

Search Institute Web Site (2010). Developmental assets: An overview. Retrieved from

Sipe, C. L., & Roder, A. E. (1999). Mentoring school-age children: A classification of programs. Retrieved from

Other pages on this topic:

Other topics:

^ Top of Page ^

Publications  |  Topics  |  E-News  |  Events  | State Contacts

Web Sites  |  About NCSET  |  Home  |  Search

National Center on Secondary Education and Transition
Institute on Community Integration
University of Minnesota
2025 East River Parkway
Minneapolis MN 55414

© 2001-2022 Regents of the University of Minnesota
The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.
Online Privacy Policy

This page was last updated on January 12, 2022.