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Our blog features posts on new program developments, profiles of our mentor-mentee pairs and news from the mentoring and youth-development fields. Check back often to see what we've been up to or sign up to receive email updates.

Celebrating 15 Years of iMentor!

Mike O'Brien Posted on December 4, 2014 - 4:59pm
Mike, flanked by some of the amazing iMentor students.

This year, iMentor is celebrating its 15th anniversary. Since 1999, we have connected 13,000 students across the country with mentors, and I am deeply humbled by all of the people who have helped us reach this milestone.

Our mentors are the foundation of our work; they commit at least three years to a single student to ensure that she or he has the opportunity to go to college and earn a degree. Our school and nonprofit partners help us bridge the gaps in our education system by making sure every student has the skills necessary to succeed in college. Our funders and champions invest in our vision to make college completion a reality each year for thousands of students from low-income communities. Lastly, our staff and board of directors work tirelessly to provide our students, mentors, and partners with innovative resources and best practices.

Fifteen years in and what we’ve learned is that there is no single solution to increase the number of students who earn a college degree. There is no single skill that automatically translates into higher outcomes for a student. There is no single conversation that unlocks the opportunities a student needs to get into and through college. There is no single moment that fundamentally changes a student’s future trajectory. There is only steady support, over many years, and the willingness to do whatever it takes to see that student succeed.

This is our challenge, and our unique opportunity. By 2018, iMentor aims to match 20,000 new students with mentors across the country. That’s 20,000 more students like Miguel and 20,000 more mentors like Ben. When Miguel was first matched with Ben, he had no plans to go to college. As their relationship developed that changed. Ben helped Miguel nurture a college aspiration that aligned with his interest in computer programming. He took Miguel on tours of college campuses and helped him get a computer programming summer fellowship. When Miguel decided that he wanted to go to college, but did not think he could pay for it, Ben helped him find schools he could afford. He even created a spreadsheet that detailed how Miguel could pay for his tuition.

Now, Miguel is starting his college journey as a freshman at New York City College of Technology. He works two jobs on top of his studies to help cover his college expenses, and he is one of the most driven young men that I have met. Although he knows the road to a college degree won’t be easy, Miguel also knows that Ben is right there with him to support him each step of the way.

Miguel and Ben’s story is one of thousands that demonstrates the pivotal role our mentors play in transforming the future opportunities of our nation’s young people. As an organization, we know that if we’re going to invest in what works, then we need to invest in people. We’re going to continue to support the relationships between our mentors and students in order to see the long game through to college completion.

This is how we collectively invest in the lives of young people to whom little is given and everything is earned. This is how we move the needle forward. We couldn’t have come this far without the dedication of our mentors, partners, staff, and supporters. On behalf of everyone at iMentor, thank you for believing in our work, our vision, and most of all, our students. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season.

With deep gratitude,

Mike O’Brien
CEO

Mike O'Brien Attending White House Opportunity Day of Action

Posted on December 3, 2014 - 5:52pm

Tomorrow, iMentor CEO Mike O'Brien will attend the White House College Opportunity Day of Action, a convening aimed at dramatically increasing college enrollment among young people from low-income communities.

The event is a continuation of a summit held in January, where President Obama challenged nonprofits, higher ed institutions, and business leaders to help academically underprepared students progress to college and be successful once there.

O’Brien plans to announce new commitments by iMentor and our partner organizations to mobilize around the president’s charge.

Back in January, the White House highlighted iMentor’s pledge to match 20,000 new students with mentors over the next five years as an effective solution to improving college access.

“iMentor is honored to play a critical role around President Obama’s call to action,” O’Brien said. “Our announcement at the White House tomorrow will outline how we plan to further leverage the community to collectively support the students and schools that are most in need.”

Pair Profile: Bukky and Anna

Posted on November 21, 2014 - 1:02pm

On paper, iMentor student Oluwabukola looks like the kind of student who doesn’t need much in the way of mentoring.

Bukky, as she is called by friends and family, is a high-achieving student in her sophomore year at Binghamton University. In addition to managing a full workload, she is treasurer of the African student organization, is an active member of the dance team, and holds a part-time work-study job.

“I remember thinking that Bukky was very disciplined and mature," recalls Bukky's mentor, Anna, of their first meeting in 2011, when Bukky was a junior in high school. "She already had a resume and cover letter and knew she wanted to study math and finance. I wasn’t sure how I could help her.”

Bukky, who is originally from Nigeria, moved to New York City with her mother and two siblings during high school. Although her family was supportive of her desire to go to college, her mother was unsure of how to guide her through the college process. That’s where Anna proved invaluable.

It was Anna’s similar experience as a foreign-born student navigating the U.S college system that provided a common ground for the pair. Anna grew up between Moscow and Tokyo and, at the encouragement of her own mentor, moved to the United States during 12th grade to attend college.

“I was fortunate to have influential people in my life who were able to advise me, especially through the complicated college process,” said Anna, a vice president at Amur Capital Management. “Being able to provide Bukky with the same support was personally very important to me.”

With the help of iMentor’s curriculum and comprehensive support, Anna made sure that Bukky successfully navigated the post-secondary process to narrow down her list of schools, write application essays, and fill out financial aid forms.

Ultimately, Bukky was accepted to 10 colleges. “Now that I’m in college,” says Bukky, “the most important thing Anna helps me with is time management. She helped me create a schedule to make sure I stay on top of everything.”

But for Anna and Bukky, iMentor’s program was just the beginning of their relationship. Over the past three years, celebrating important milestones and spending holidays together have become regular events. When Bukky left for her first semester of college, Anna was alongside her family at the bus station to see her off. And last year, Anna attended church with Bukky and her family on Christmas.

On a recent weekend visit, the two took the train from New York City to the Hudson Valley to tour Anna’s alma mater, Bard College. They spent the day on campus, visiting the business school and discussing Bukky’s interest in a career in finance.

In October, the pair shared another memory when they were honored at iMentor’s 15th Anniversary Benefit. There, Bukky and Anna took the stage to share the most meaningful aspects of their relationship with more than 500 guests.

As they look ahead to 2015, they're looking forward to working together as Bukky prepares to transition to upper-level coursework and secure a full-time summer internship in New York City.

“We both went into the program open-minded about what to expect,” Anna explained. “For us, there was never an ‘I’m the mentor and you’re the mentee’ moment. We learn from each other and have built a true friendship. I can’t imagine my life without her.”

Empire State Building in iMentor Orange!

Posted on October 28, 2014 - 1:53pm

In honor of iMentor's 15th anniversary celebration, the Empire State Building will be aglow tonight in our signature orange.

As we celebrate 15 years of partnering with public schools and providing every student with a mentor, we're also eager to look ahead. Over the next five years, iMentor will match 20,000 new students from low-income communities with mentors and replicate our program in three new cities.

We are able to continue to do this work thanks to our school partners, partner programs, supporters, mentors, and staff who work tirelessly to ensure that every public school student has an opportunity to enroll and succeed in college.

Please celebrate with us by taking a picture of the Empire State Building tonight and sharing it online with your social networks using the hashtag #iMentor15.

iMentor Spotlight: Yassamin Davoodi

Posted on October 15, 2014 - 10:26am
Yassi, left, with one of her students.

iMentor’s program coordinators are the backbone of the organization. They are responsible for delivering the iMentor curriculum to students, matching mentor-mentee pairs, and planning and facilitating monthly events. This month’s spotlight features a conversation with Yassamin Davoodi, senior program coordinator.

Q: What was it like to match your first pairs?
A: I was incredibly anxious, super excited, and really nervous. Before matching my students, I had eight weeks to get to know them, teach them about the program, and learn more about what they wanted from a mentor. I got to know the students really well and was excited to start the matching process. But, I was still nervous. I felt like I was going to make or break their experience. But I've learned that it's about finding a consistent and open-minded mentor, not about making the perfect match.

Q: What criteria do you consider when matching a student with a mentor?
A: I present things to my students that can get them excited – sometimes it’s something as small as having the same favorite food. If I know that a student is the oldest in their family, I may look for a mentor who had responsibilities outside of the classroom – whether it was a job or taking care of family members. If a student is quiet, I make an effort not to match them with someone who is going to overwhelm them with being talkative. It’s about finding someone who can respect the student’s personality and help them build confidence.

Q:What does a typical week look like for you?
A: On Tuesdays, I prepare for my sessions. At school, I meet with students, sometimes catching them in the hallways, and following up on things. I also attend meetings with other teachers. I teach all day on Wednesdays. For example, last week I introduced the college application checklist and afterward we had a large class discussion where students had the opportunity to ask questions. Then, the students read their mentors’ emails and responded to them for the remainder of the class period. While they were reading and writing emails, I walked around and did individual check-ins. On Thursdays, I am in the school all day in an effort to build out the college prep portion of our program. As it stands now, the school's guidance counselor works with more than 300 students, so I support her the best way I can. For example, we planned a college fair during parent/teacher night. The college fair went well. We had more than 25 colleges there, which was a big success.

Q:What changes have you seen in your students as a result of the program?
A: I started with my students in their freshman year, three years ago, and now they are in their junior year of high school. The biggest difference I’ve seen, in contrast to high school students who do not have a mentor, is that my students are thinking about college a lot earlier. Resumes are a big thing right now. Mentees are asking their mentors for feedback on their resumes. This year, my students are actually applying for jobs. During my last event, one of my pairs had a mock interview session. Mentees now know that their mentors are the people they can go to practice career-specific skills.

Q: What qualities make an excellent mentor?
A: Consistency, reliability, and follow-through. Great mentors ask questions to help illuminate knowledge gaps and then work with their mentees to address them. I have a lot of mentors who go above and beyond in different ways. One that comes to mind is a mentor who was stuck on a business trip and wasn’t able to attend an iMentor-hosted college campus event. He emailed me asking for a list of colleges that he and his mentee could go to over the following weekend.

Q: What’s your biggest goal for your pairs in the next few years?
A:My biggest goal is to get my pairs through the college process. I want my students to feel empowered, to make educated decisions about the opportunities that they have, and to feel confident that their mentors are there to support them in the decisions they make. I also want to ensure that their communication becomes more independent and that there is no doubt in their mind that they want to continue their match through college.

Esquire Magazine Spotlights iMentor

Posted on September 18, 2014 - 11:57am

This week, Esquire magazine announced the launch of a multiplatform mentoring initiative, with a goal of recruiting 100,000 new mentors to break the cycle of failure impacting the lives of American boys.

In its October issue, which is on stands now, the men’s international lifestyle publication identifies iMentor as one of 89 Esquire-vetted organizations that is leveraging the power of mentoring to change lives.

Esquire first reported on some of the issues facing young men eight years ago in a feature, “The Problem With Boys,” and it has continued to be a focus for the magazine. Much of the findings from that initial research are disturbing at best. If you are a boy in America, for example, you are:

  • Three times as likely as a girl to be diagnosed with an attention-deficit or learning disorder and twice as likely to be on medication for it.
  • More likely to be held back in high school and more likely to drop out of high school than girls.
  • Less likely to go to college and less likely to graduate from college than girls.
  • Twice as likely to abuse alcohol, and until you are 24, five times as likely to kill yourself.
  • Eleven times as likely to go to prison.

The magazine also launched a custom-built interactive microsite that features celebrity interviews and allows users to share videos about the mentors in their lives. Esquire is hoping to inspire its readers to take a more active role in the creation of the next generation of male mentors.

"Esquire’s October issue is a huge call to action, especially as iMentor looks to recruit 400 more men this year so we can match all of the young men in our program with a mentor,” said iMentor CEO Mike O’Brien.

“When a young man is provided with individualized, one-on-one support, it means he has a champion. It means he has someone who believes in him, who will help him nurture a college aspiration and get him excited about his future. iMentor is fundamentally reimagining how we can leverage the community to ensure that this kind of support is a part of what it means to go to school in New York City. Our whole-school partnership means every student in a school is matched with a mentor, and that sets the groundwork for real and lasting change to occur."

Young Professional Seminars Build Workplace Skills

Posted on September 16, 2014 - 11:58am

This summer, in conjunction with Neuberger Berman and Morgan Stanley, iMentor introduced a series of Young Professional Seminars. The series is focused on helping our students build their personal and professional networks, refine their skills for the workplace, and explore career options during their time in high school and college.

At Neuberger Berman and Morgan Stanley, more than 50 iMentor students attended events where each mentee had the opportunity to focus on:

  • Interviewing skills and techniques
  • Connecting personal goals and aspirations to career paths
  • The importance of a good cover letter and resume
  • Networking skills

To help make this possible, Neuberger Berman and Morgan Stanley each recruited 20 employees to help conduct mock interviews and provide resume feedback in an encouraging and low stakes environment for each student. Students participated in several rounds of personalized mock interviews. Each round included seven minutes of interview practice followed by two minutes of feedback. Employee volunteers also participated in an engaging panel and answered students’ questions that ranged from school selection and personal experience to interview tactics and internship opportunities.

Mentees appreciated the opportunity to enhance their interviewing skills, resume, and gain insight from corporate professionals. A student at the International High School at Lafayette said it best: “It was a great meeting. I learned a lot from my interviewers. They gave me useful guidance. I felt comfortable and confident. All the interviewers and staff were nice and welcoming. Thank you for this opportunity!”

If interested in learning more about hosting a Professional Series event at your company please email Celine Patel.

Morgan Stanley Gives Tech-Savvy iMentor Students Real-World Experience

Posted on September 10, 2014 - 10:31am
A group of tech-savvy iMentor students spent six weeks at Morgan Stanley during a summer internship.

It was back to school last week for public schools in New York City, but for a group of iMentor students with coding and web design chops, this summer offered a chance to put their tech skills to good use.

During a six-week paid internship at Morgan Stanley, 9th and 10th graders from the Academy for Software Engineering in Manhattan designed web pages, crunched data, and learned how to support digital platforms and applications.

“It was challenging work, especially the coding part,” said 15-year-old Alston Chau. “But my manager was cool. I could ask him anything.”

This is the second consecutive year that Morgan Stanley has employed iMentor students over the summer break. The internships are designed to offer project-based experience to young people interested in pursuing careers in the tech industry. At the end of the internship, Morgan Stanley hosted a showcase in which each iMentor student gave a brief presentation about their work.


 

Calling Future MENtors!

Posted on August 13, 2014 - 5:08pm

Next month, a group of new students will start the school year and, soon after, meet their mentors for the first time. In order to match all of the students in our program with a compassionate mentor, we need to recruit 700 men.

This year, six out of 10 iMentor students will be male, but only four of 10 mentor applicants will be men. Help us make sure that all of the boys in our program get a mentor this fall by signing up today or nominating someone you know would make a great mentor.

Mentors make a difference, but you don't have to take our word for it. Check out this audio slideshow to hear iMentor student Danny read the candid letter he wrote to his mentor, Joe, before heading to college.

Help make college possible for one amazing student.

First Lady Michelle Obama Selects iMentor Student for Reach Higher Initiative

Posted on July 11, 2014 - 11:39am

iMentor student Anthony Mendez was one of 10 students handpicked by First Lady Michelle Obama to join a roundtable discussion on Tuesday about overcoming obstacles to remain on the path to college. With his mentor Jack Roberts by his side, Anthony traveled to the White House. Below is a recap of his trip in his own words:

Connecting with those nine other kids, who had totally different backgrounds and faced different hardships and obstacles, made me feel like I had known them my entire life. I really felt connected and felt like I had done so much more than just visit the White House. I created a family with a group of amazing kids who have accomplished what many thought we wouldn’t.

They made me realize that when you open up and let yourself be vulnerable, it doesn’t mean that you’re weak, but human. I learned that President Obama and the First Lady have faced their own demons, but pushed passed those barriers without needing anybody’s approval.

Everybody at the table with the First Lady faced their struggles in unique ways, but what we all had in common was that we know we can’t be successful without somebody who believes in you. That’s who Jack is for me. That’s what my family is for me.

I’ll never forget Darius, who was one of the kids at the table from the South Side of Chicago. He looked completely different from me and speaks in a whole other accent, but he had a similar experience as I did. I got to see that no matter where you come from, you will always be a product of your environment, but it takes a strong mindset to see and realize that even if society doesn’t believe in you, you have control over your life. Only you can take steps toward reaching your higher purpose.

By surrounding ourselves with people who want us to do better, we can all be destined for greatness. Society does not define us; we define us. And if we accept change, take risks, and allow ourselves to open up to others, amazing things will happen, like meeting the First Lady. Mrs. Obama helped me realize that we should all be proud of our past and not hide it, because our stories are powerful and can inspire a generation to be great and do better. 

This whole experience is something nobody can take away from me. All of us will remember this day, and remember having the First Lady know our names and talk to us as if she had known us forever. She is such an amazing woman. I’ll never forget her calling me “my Anthony” and giving me a hug before telling me that it was a privilege to hear my story.

Plus, I saved my name tag.

Click here to see the full photo gallery.

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