Most people can look back and point to a special person or two who made a difference in their journey to where they are today. Having a mentor can be especially important in college, as students try to figure out their career path, stay focused in school, and get the right experience to prepare them for life beyond campus.
Ashton Jafari, 25, and Stephanie Bravo, 26, felt so strongly about the impact that mentors had on their lives that they set up a national network to pair students and professionals. StudentMentor.org was launched two years ago as an online platform to connect studentsfirst college students and now high schoolers, as well with mentors willing to share their experience. Funded by grants from foundations and corporations, the network offers the program for free to participants.
Too often, schools don't have the resources to help first-generation college students in need of career advice, says Bravo, president of StudentMentor.org and herself a first-generation college student who didn't find the guidance she needed initially at a large public university. Jafari, executive director of the organization, says lack of access to professional advice hurts studentsand ultimately, college-completion rates. Research shows, not surprisingly, that students who have an early, clear career focus are more likely to finish their degree. "It's hard to go to class when you don't know what you want to do," says Jafari.
With StudentMentor.org, students can request a match with someone to help with time management, study skills, career advice, internships, and financing education. Much of the student-mentor exchangeperhaps 90 percenthappens online. But students and mentors do meet in person or via Skype, as well. On average, mentorships last several months. Jafari encourages students to seek out multiple mentors, as their needs and interests change.
Most college students seeking mentors are freshmen and sophomores. Recognizing the need to help with the transition into college, StudentMentor.org is beginning to work with high school students. Charter high schools in California interested in promoting retention for their graduating seniors have partnered with the organization to match students with professionals.
"It's extremely important to help students in high school really figure out what they want to do," says Bravo. "Present them with options. Bring in engineers, doctors, and lawyers and have them share their stories and tell them that is is possible to do what they want to do."
Look for more opportunities to get involved with mentoring during January, National Mentoring Month.