Journal of Christian Ministry | 2024: An Exploration of Doctoral Supervision and Engagement between Professional Doctoral Students and Project Mentors

2024: An Exploration of Doctoral Supervision and Engagement between Professional Doctoral Students and Project Mentors

2024: An Exploration of Doctoral Supervision and Engagement between Professional Doctoral Students and Project Mentors

An Exploration of Doctoral Supervision and Engagement
Between Professional Doctoral Students and Project Mentors

Randall L. Stone, PhD
Director, DEdMin and EdD Programs
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary


Faculty supervision is a critical part of any doctoral program, especially during the writing stage. Ninety-six graduates from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary completed an internal survey to explore the characteristics of writing project mentors and interactions between mentors and students. Data revealed positive mentor experiences and discovered desired characteristics. Results and observations form the basis of recommendations for program improvements.


The research for this study was conducted with the intention of improving doctoral supervision in the Professional Doctoral Program of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) by assessing the characteristics, perceived value, and efficacy of the project mentor and student engagement. All data were collected, summarized, and communicated in this document. Results will be used to make recommendations to program administrators for improvements and enhancement of training for current and future project mentors.

Doctoral supervision is an essential element of accredited professional doctoral programs. A culminating writing project is required to meet the published standards. However, specificity of the nature and demands of such projects is absent. Individual schools have latitude in how best to meet the standards outlined by the primary accrediting organization Association of Theological Schools (ATS).[i] [1] Students at some institutions may be expected to write a “mini dissertation” or “dissertation light,” while others complete a “project.” The divergence in summative writing products may warrant research but is not the focus of this particular article.

ATS Standards

5.4 The Doctor of Ministry degree provides a variety of student learning and formational experiences that include peer learning, self-directed learning, research-based learning, and field-based learning. The degree culminates with a written project that explores an area of ministry related to the student’s vocational calling, utilizes appropriate research methodologies and resources, and generates new knowledge regarding the practice of ministry. An oral presentation and evaluation follow the completion of the written project to reflect mastery of the project and achievement of the program’s outcomes. If any courses in this degree are shared with other degrees, doctoral-level outcomes and assignments specific to students in this professional degree are made clear.[2]

New Orleans Professional Doctoral Program

The professional doctoral program at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary includes three degrees: the Doctor of Ministry (DMin), the Doctor of Educational Ministry (DEdMin), and a Post-Doctoral Certificate (PDC). The DMin and DEdMin programs advance through three major phases. Upon admission, students are introduced to the school and the doctoral program in an orientation workshop. After students complete the first workshop, they progress to the core of the program characterized by six or eight seminars, depending on prerequisite degree held and doctoral degree pursued, and another workshop entitled Mid-Career Assessment. The final phase of the program is the project phase. After successful completion of a Project in Ministry Design workshop, students implement and report their project under the guidance of a faculty or project mentor.

Since the inception of the professional doctoral programs at NOBTS, students have been allowed to solicit a project mentor from among our faculty. Substantial growth in program enrollment coupled with a reduction in full-time faculty in the applied ministry disciplines accentuated the need for an expanded number of mentors. In response, the Professional Doctoral Program directors and school administrators explored the possibility of including DMin and DEdMin graduates as project mentors. Adoption of the recommendations resulted in expansion of the available pool of project mentors beyond faculty. Selected graduates were enlisted to serve as project mentors in place of faculty members. The experiment proved successful, and additional graduates were activated to fill the need. Subsequently, the title of the project supervisor officially was changed from Faculty Mentor to Project Mentor in 2023. The addition of graduate Project Mentors has enhanced the program by expanding both the number and the diversity of potential mentors. However, a new administrative task of assigning non-faculty Project Mentors to searching students surfaced. Connecting available mentors to eager students is manageable in the scope of administration as tools and resources are developed.

Project Development

Written projects are completed in four essential stages outlined during the Project in Ministry Design (PIMD) workshop: Preparation, Implementation, Documentation, and Evaluation. Students are given direction and resources to complete the project during the workshop, and mentors advise and guide the overall process through completion.


Professional Doctoral students prepare for the design and implementation by attending the PIMD workshop, reviewing the professional doctoral Project in Ministry Handbook, and accessing resources available on the program website. [3] Students write and submit a preliminary proposal outlining a project idea, describe their ministry context, review foundational literature, and present the scope and timeline of the project. The PIMD is an interactive workshop to give students personal direction for the project. Students are expected to enlist and confirm a Project Mentor[4] before attending the workshop. Additionally, they are expected to be familiar with the project handbook, especially the project components.

Following the workshop, a Final Project Proposal (FPP) must be submitted and approved prior to implementation. Final proposals reflect the design and construction of a relevant project associated with the student’s ministry need and context. Product Evaluators and Field Mentors are enlisted during this phase.[5] FPPs are reviewed by a style reader for grammar and style. Project Mentors assess the FPP using an established evaluation rubric and recommend approval or correction. Once the mentor approves the FPP, the Professional Doctoral Oversight Committee (ProDOC) approves the project, which allows students to move forward. The Project in Ministry Handbook, evaluation rubrics, and writing resources are made available to the students and Project Mentors via the program website.


Once a Final Project Proposal (FPP) has received required approvals, students may proceed with implementation. Students conduct proposed research and develop project components, enlist project partners, and activate enlisted evaluators. Each articulated step of the proposal should be implemented during this stage.

One of the strengths of the program has been the use of Field Mentors during the implementation stage. Regular communication between the student and his or her Project Mentor and Field Mentor is critical for success. Currently, only the Field Mentor is required to record regular meetings with the student.[6] Field Mentors sign a contract with specified duties. Students are responsible to initiate and schedule communication with their mentors. Meetings may be face-to-face or virtual.

Students complete the Final Project Report (FPR) as presented in the FPP. Care is to be given to evaluate products, document actions, and record theological and personal reflections. Self-awareness and assessment are important parts of the academic and professional growth process.


Students are encouraged during the PIMD workshop to document each decision and action during the research and implementation of the project. Detailing the interactions of project participants, evaluator responses, and student activities provides readers insight into the flow and efficacy of the project. The FPR is the summative element of the program.


Projects have multiple layers of evaluation. Completed research and writing products are submitted to evaluators as the project unfolds. Satisfactory assessment for each product must be recorded before the next steps can be taken in the implementation. In addition to the targeted assessments, the FPR is evaluated by an assigned style reader, the Project Mentor and additional readers. Two readers evaluate the final project report and participate in the exit interview along with the Project Mentor. Assessment rubrics are used at each step of the project to provide consistency and validity.

Faculty engagement is often contingent on the initiative of the student. Selected faculty may be catalytic in the implementation and completion of the student’s project, report, documentation, and evaluation.

Project Mentor Enlistment and Training

Project Mentors generally are selected by the student. Students are instructed to seek faculty with whom they relate personally or professionally to consider as mentors. This practice has been in place for several decades with positive results. However, a rise in faculty turnover, a decrease in total full-time faculty, and an increase in student population present unprecedented challenges in maintaining that system.

As the need for more mentors grew, alternative sources of mentors were considered. Enlisting educators from other institutions was a possibility. However, the downside of more untrained faculty without the benefit of the NOBTS experience or ethos seemed like an unnecessary barrier to introduce. The large number of program graduates became an obvious solution. With firsthand experience of the project process, a devotion to the school, and a desire to serve the next generation of students, NOBTS graduates willingly have demonstrated excellent work in these new roles. All graduates who serve in this way do so as volunteers for a small stipend. Project Mentors in this category are selected from among the quality projects in publication. The program administrators look for individuals with excellent leadership, writing, and administrative skills. Not all graduates have distinguished themselves sufficiently to be enlisted as mentors.

Training for mentors has been limited. Currently the faculty training in doctoral supervision consists of two components. First, faculty members receive specific but limited training at the annual faculty workshop. Such training usually consists of project flow charts, changes in procedures or policies, and awareness of available resources. Second, new faculty members are given some personal coaching by one of the program directors. Often new faculty are introduced to project supervision by first serving as a project reader. This process has been moderately successful at sustaining the number of Project Mentors. All full-time faculty are expected to serve as mentors when asked. Perhaps the most valuable yet informal mentor training comes by serving on the Professional Doctoral Oversight Committee (ProDOC). Individual faculty who serve on this administrative committee prove to be more proficient at guiding students than many of their peers. Familiarity with the handbook, access to the administrators, and monthly review of proposals and projects give ProDOC members a distinct mentoring skill advantage. Full-time faculty receive no supplemental compensation for serving as Project Mentors, but supervising doctoral students earns faculty a teaching load reduction.

The only formal training for non-faculty Project Mentors is the successful completion of a quality project themselves. Currently, no additional formal training is given prior to service. Two informal training actions are presented to candidates for Project Mentors. One is contributing as a reader for a project in the graduate’s field of study or ministry. The other is coaching from a program director. Obviously, their own experience is the paramount preparation.

Research Method

The substantial changes in the mentoring assignment and training protocols necessitated an evaluation of the entire process. The Project Mentor Engagement Survey is a first step to assess the experience of program graduates. The prevailing question driving the research was, What is the experience and efficacy of “Project Mentor Engagement” in the professional doctoral project process?

In a review of the project process and development stages, critical questions surfaced for use on a survey. An initial draft of pertinent questions was generated and submitted to the Professional Doctoral Program directors for feedback. Conversations between program coordinators shaped proper verbiage and inclusion of additional points of inquiry. The final questionnaire is a twenty-item Project Mentor Engagement Survey.

The survey was constructed in Microsoft Forms, and twenty items were imported into the format for digital delivery. The survey consists of eleven questions rated on a Likert scale of 1–7 evaluating the interactions between mentors and students, with 1= Not True or No Engagement and 7 = Very True or Significant Engagement. Five short-answer questions and one multiple-choice question are included to collect qualitative data describing the perceptions and nature of the characteristics of mentors and significant encounters. Three additional multiple-choice questions solicit demographic information about the survey participants.

A search of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Professional Doctoral Program graduates from 2004 until 2022 revealed a total of 665 individuals who received either a DMin or DEdMin degree during that period. The school has averaged forty graduates annually since 2010 and thirty-seven each year from 2004 to 2022. Unfortunately, maintaining current contact information has been difficult due to the transient nature of pastors and staff, particularly during the past few years. Data management challenges have been especially steep in the wake of COVID-19. Anecdotally, churches were affected disproportionately, and many pastors and staff lost their positions. Therefore, the accuracy of much of the data was questionable. Email addresses were associated with only 462 names (N = 462).

Once a complete list of the names with contacts of graduate became available, the survey was emailed to all. Two reminders followed in subsequent weeks. Survey responses were collected over a three-week period in late November and early December 2023. Despite uncertainty of the data, 95 responses were recorded from DMin and DEdMin graduates (N= 95). Because this research focused on professional degrees, graduates holding the PDC were not included.


The collected data proved valuable to address the research question. Summary of the scaled data (table 1) revealed positive report of interactions between student and mentor. The preponderance of the scores were between 5 and 6, robust scores for the project process and mentor engagement.

The first two questions, which address the primary tasks of the Project Mentor, reported the highest marks: accessible and available (6.01) and provided instruction and guidance (5.99). Positive scores in another area reflected the nature of the program and heart of the Project Mentors. Participants indicated mentors were concerned about my personal well-being(5.92). Many students in the midst of research or writing can be overwhelmed by life circumstances such as health issues, job or ministry changes, or family issues. A significant number of students abandon their writing and even drop out of the program during these seasons. A quality faculty mentor can help students manage their circumstances and finish the work. Additionally, participants reported positive perception of the mentor advocating for them with the administration. Timelines, policies, and situational concerns can be disruptive for students trying to see their project to the end. Mentors who intercede and advocate provide valuable motivation and encouragement to students.

The weakest score (4.08) related to communication “between Project Mentor, Field Mentor, and other support persons.” The depressed score is associated directly to the lack of expectations of and for project mentors in this regard. Project Mentors are not required, expected, or trained to include the Field Mentor in project design, implementation, or writing. Field Mentors are primarily encouragers and advisers. They have no direct involvement with the project construction and little in the final evaluation. The lower score indicates effort was made by some mentors; but absent direct guidance, such engagement is not likely.

Table 1. Project Mentor Engagement Survey Results

Likert-Rated Questions

Question Average Score
1. My Project Mentor was accessible and available to discuss my project 6.01
2. My Project Mentor provided specific instruction and guidance. 5.99
3. My Project Mentor listened to my concerns and struggles. 6.05
4. My Project Mentor helped me manage writing, time management, or research skills. 5.01
5. My Project Mentor provided feedback on project design. 5.80
6. My Project Mentor provided feedback on project content. 5.84
7. My Project Mentor provided feedback on writing style or format. 5.22
8. My Project Mentor prepared me for project defense or exit interview. 5.55
9. My Project Mentor communicated with my Field Mentor or other support persons. 4.08
10. My Project Mentor demonstrated/expressed concern about my personal well-being. 5.92
11. My Project Mentor advocated for me to the doctoral program administration. 5.92

Short-Answer Questions

Question Response #Respondents %
12. In your opinion, what is the most important characteristics of an effective Project Mentor? Availability 26 27
13. Identify 1-3 important contributions or interactions between you and your Project Mentor during the project design phase. Projectdevelopment/ design/concepts 48 50
14. Identify 1-3 important contributions or interactions between you and your Project Mentor during the project implementation and writing phase. Writing style and feedback 22 23
15. What are 1-3 suggestions for improving the quality of engagement during the project design phase? Regular/consistent


21 22
16. What are 1-3 suggestions for improving the quality of engagement during the project implementation and writing phase? Answered callsor contacts to discuss the project


Multiple-Choice Questions

  1. My Project Mentor visited my ministry site during the implementation stage of the project.

Yes                  10
No                   85

  1. Which degree did you earn?

DEdMin          20
DMin              75

  1. When did you graduate?

            2004–2008      12

            2009–2013      10

            2014–2018      27

            2019–2023      46

  1. I would be interested in serving as a Project Mentor for a new student.

Yes                  72
No                   23


Mentor Characteristics

While short-answer questions generated some informative responses, a few key points emerged. The most important characteristic of Project Mentors is availability. Questions of access and availability conjure concerns of excessive time demands. Timely responses from mentors spur students to complete tasks and maintain a positive disposition toward the project. Another characteristic identified in the study was guidance. Students seem to acknowledge the importance of mentors having familiarity with the project development process and being able to give direction throughout the experience. Finally, encourager was the third most noted characteristic. The mentor’s role is often reminding students of their accomplishments and challenging them to finish the work.

Important Interactions

More than half of survey respondents identified assistance from the mentor as an important interaction. Mentors who provided advice on project concepts, design, scope, or goals were noted. Suggestions for project evaluation resources and other essential directions in project development or implementation were cited as well. Expressions of personal concern and prayer were perceived as important to students.

Mentor Contributions

The questions regarding mentor contributions spanned multiple stages of the project: design, implementation, and writing. Survey participants reported the importance of mentor feedback. Project design is the central outcome of the PIMD workshop, culminating in an approved proposal. However, during the implementation and writing stages of the program, students often feel isolated and detached. Survey results confirm that regular communication and feedback are vital in maintaining momentum toward project completion. While the scores were generally positive, some students expressed a desire for more structured or consistent engagement.

One area of potential weakness is related to writing. A number of participants recorded limited assistance with the writing portion of the project. Over the past two decades, program administrators have marshalled resources and focused efforts to improve writing skills and thus the final product. For the past decade, a project coordinator has provided guidance and resources for students. Proposal and project templates are available on the program website. Submitted proposals and projects are scrutinized by the project coordinator and evaluated by style readers. A final assessment is conducted by two project readers, usually faculty or former graduates.


Survey participants were split between DMin (75) and DEdMin (20) graduates. These numbers are proportional to the student enrollment in the past two decades. Different admission qualifications and seminary graduation numbers contribute to the number of applicants in each degree. No distinction is made between the degrees in particular seminar work or project requirements.

More students from the past five years responded. Two factors may be relevant. First, the number of graduates accelerated in the past decade as enrollment increased. Second, the longer students have been out of school, the less likely their personal information is correct in the school data system, which contributed to fewer graduates from earlier years responding.

The last question solicited interest in potential service as a mentor. Surprisingly, 76% of graduates expressed willingness to serve as a Project Mentor.


Additional training is warranted, and the program needs to target best practices. The Project Mentor Engagement Survey affirmed the value and efficacy of supervision and direction provided by Project Mentors for NOBTS students in the Professional Doctoral Program. While selected stages and elements of the process need refining, the overall experience was reported as positive. Participants communicated specific qualities most desirable for mentors and highlighted specific interactions that enhanced their engagement.

Survey results exposed several program deficits. Administratively, facilitating connections between the Field Mentor and the Project Mentor would strengthen the process and support the student. Onsite visits in a student’s ministry context currently are limited and are not required. Suggesting or mandating such visits seems beneficial to the student and mentor. The student would gain detailed feedback and comprehensive evaluation by the mentor. However, the program has an international appeal, so requiring onsite visits would present logistic and financial challenges. Finally, clarifying the relationship and expectations between student and mentor with stronger contracts, required meeting reports, and similar actions is warranted.

A high percentage of participants indicated interest in serving as Project Mentor. This willingness not only speaks to the positive experience as a student but also provides the program with a robust group to consider for enlistment as mentors in the future.

A more robust training regimen certainly would strengthen the program. The inclusion of non-faculty mentors accentuates the need for training for all Project Mentors. Improved training procedures and protocols should reflect project quality, process consistency, and program sustainability.


The survey revealed positive aspects of the project supervision experience. However, the survey also exposed a few weaknesses that should be addressed. Four recommended actions address the most obvious deficits.

  1. Review and revise the Project Mentor Agreements. Include detailed expectations, requirements, and reporting. Provide clear directions for Project Mentors.
  2. Improve future training. Training venues and resources should include examples of best practices. New mentors may need additional data and time.
  3. Strengthen accountability with Project Mentors. Generate reporting requirements and documentation to ensure mentors are meeting regularly and providing necessary guidance.
  4. Foster Project in Ministry support teams. Encourage Project Mentors to connect with Field Mentors and local support persons to collaborate in monitoring the student’s project process. Be attentive to possible disruptions in life and writing patterns.

[1] Association of Theological Schools, Standards of Accreditation, /Standards-Of-Accreditation,accessed January 10, 2024.

[2] Association of Theological Schools, 2020 Standards of Accreditation, https://www.ats .edu/files/galleries/standards-of-accreditation.pdf#page=12, accessed January 10, 2024.

[3] Professional Doctoral Program website,

[4] See the Doctor of Ministry Handbook for duties of Project Mentors and Field Mentors, .pdf#page=9. Project Mentor Agreement available in the

[5] Product Evaluators assess components of the student’s project such as annotated bibliographies, research reports, lesson plans or strategy sessions. Instruction regarding evaluator credentials and responsibilities are presented in the PIMD workshop. Field Mentor Agreement available in the