Mentorship: The Power of Relationships for Academic and Career Success
By Mike O’Brien, CEO, iMentor December 10, 2014 01:18 PM
This post is part of a series inspired by Pathways to Progress, a Citi Foundation initiative that works with community partners, city officials and Citi employee volunteers to help low-income urban youth develop the leadership experience, professional skills and the workplace know-how they will need on their path towards college and careers. Follow the conversation on social media using the hashtag #Pathways2Progress
Personal relationships are a crucial component to ensuring more young people get into college, graduate and move towards career success. Early in my career, the importance of supporting students became clear to me, during my first role as a high school teacher.
In 2000, I joined a high school in East New York, Brooklyn, where I taught English and also served as the varsity basketball coach. As a teacher, I had 300 students each year in my classroom, but as a coach, I had only 12 students on the basketball team. The contrast between these two positions made clear to me how important personalized support can be for a student's educational and career development.
Over the course of my first season as a coach, I began to develop substantive relationships with my players. The amount of time I was able to spend with these students--many more hours than I was able to spend with the students in my classroom--allowed me to understand the unique motivations and challenges each student was facing. As a result, this depth of knowledge ensured I could customize the attention I provided to each player on the team. This tailored support, delivered with consistency over a long period of time, began to have an impact on how my players performed on the court and in the classroom. I became fascinated by the role that personal relationships could play in getting students to live up to their potential. And I became intrigued with the question of how you could provide these relationships for all of the students in my school.
I joined iMentor because it answered this question of scalable impact. iMentor partners with public schools in low income communities to match every student in the school with a mentor. Mentors commit a minimum of three years to a single student, and then have the option to extend their relationships through college completion. Many continue to keep in touch well after the formal program concludes. Every day, we are reminded of the amount of time and effort it takes to empower a young person to reach his or her full potential. Throughout the 15 years of the iMentor program, we have learned that there are no quick fixes or easy answers. What is required are hundreds of interventions and actions at a hundred different times all along a young person's trajectory. Just like it did for you and just like it did for me.
That is the driving realization that had only begun to crystallize for me at my first teaching job, and it is also the most important thing I have learned at iMentor. If you are betting on what will work, you put your money on people. You bet on relationships - and on networks that are going to be in it for the long run. If you care about making sure more young people get a chance to leverage their education for a shot at a better life, you bet on the thousands of friends and neighbors every single day who are willing to step up and do whatever it takes to get them there.
We have more than 100 Citi mentors this year - and many more are still signing up. Each one is deeply invested in the success of New York City high school students. We hope you will consider joining us.