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  6. Value, visibility and belonging: exploring the impact of staff/student reverse mentoring within higher education

Value, visibility and belonging: exploring the impact of staff/student reverse mentoring within higher education

Steve Gleadall and Rachael O’Connor, University of Leeds


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Click to download the presentation Value, visibility and belonging: exploring the impact of staff/student reverse mentoring within higher education (.pptx)


Our presentation will consider findings from an institutional reverse mentoring study between students who self-identify as under-represented at University and senior leaders. We worked with students from underrepresented groups including mature, international, UK ethnically minoritised, and widening participation background. Reverse mentoring in higher education flips ‘traditional’ roles, positioning students as ‘mentors’ and staff as ‘mentees’, with a view to educating and empowering both sides and catalysing cultural change through sharing and discussion of unique lived experiences.

The project was piloted in 2021 by Steve Gleadall from Educational Engagement, the department with responsibility for leading the University’s access and student success work, in collaboration with the Students’ Union. Following the pilot’s success and positive feedback, it was developed into a research study, supported by Rachael O’Connor as academic lead, and expanded across the University in 2022. The key aims of the study were to assess the impact of staff/student reverse mentoring relationships on: (i) students’ feelings of value, visibility and belonging; (ii) staff understanding and appreciation of challenges and barriers faced by under-represented students and (iii) the daily practice and influence of institutional leaders within their areas of responsibility.

Our presentation will share and explore data gathered from project participants in light of these aims and reflect on the future direction of reverse mentoring within our University and the wider higher education sector. Participant reflections on being mentors (students) and mentees (staff) in the project were gathered both quantitatively (pre- and post-intervention surveys) and qualitatively (one-to-one reflective conversations) during the project period and further longitudinal data is to be collected six months following the scheme. The project relates closely to the ‘student engagement’ sub-theme of the conference given its focus on students from under-represented backgrounds and close connections with representation and student voice. We ultimately argue that reverse mentoring is a positive and potentially revolutionary intervention, which supports us to rise to the grand challenge of creating an institutional culture and experience that supports all students to feel they are valued, visible and belong. 


Steve Gleadall

Steve Gleadall

Educational Engagement Manager, University of Leeds

Steve Gleadall (he/him) is a manager responsible for leading packages of work to support access and student success at the University of Leeds. Since 2018, he has been involved in developing and delivering the University’s Access and Student Success Strategy. Steve is passionate about ensuring all students, regardless of their background, are supported to make informed choices and receive an equitable experience in order to achieve successful outcomes. Working closely with students and authentically representing the student voice is key to informing his work.

In 2021 he piloted a University-wide reverse mentoring scheme which created space for students to safely share their experiences and highlight the hidden aspects of the student experience. Steve currently champions work to address the hidden curriculum at Leeds, delivering training sessions for staff, creating and sharing resources, and reporting on the impact of this work to inform further positive change at the institution.


Rachael O’Connor

Associate Prof Rachael O’Connor 

Associate Professor and Director of Student Support, University of Leeds

Rachael O’Connor (she/her) is an Associate Professor, Director of Student Support and APT Lead in the School of Law at the University of Leeds. She comes from a working class background and was one of the first in her family to go to University. This contributes towards Rachael’s passion for improving University experiences for students who self-identify as under-represented. The focus of Rachael’s scholarship is developing authentic staff/student relationships through reverse mentoring. She has won several prizes internally and externally for this scholarship.

Rachael is currently undertaking a three-year fellowship exploring the intersections between co-designed staff/student reverse mentoring and academic personal tutoring. Rachael is also a trustee of legal mental health charity LawCare and is currently undertaking a research project in partnership with LawCare to pilot a reverse mentoring scheme between aspiring and junior lawyers and those working in EDI, wellbeing and trainee support in the legal profession.

As well as this session Rachael will also be presenting Sharing insights from reverse mentoring in HE: the power of listening and learning for developing authentic staff/student relationships on the second day of the conference.