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From Mentee to Mentor
During my sophomore year of college, I developed a bond with my English literature professor, Anwar Uhuru. He became my informal mentor and a powerful influence in my life, encouraging me to pursue any opportunity that might help me succeed. One day, I received an email from Professor Uhuru telling me to apply to the Futures Initiative’s (FI’s) Peer Mentoring Program at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center, with a direct link to the program application for June 2016 included. I immediately applied. I knew that Professor Uhuru would not suggest an opportunity if it weren’t imperative that I pursue it.
A few weeks later, FI Leadership Fellow Director Lauren Melendez contacted me to congratulate me on my acceptance into the program. I was ecstatic. After receiving the first email from Lauren and reading her kind and encouraging words, I felt that I had made the correct choice by applying. But it wasn’t until I attended the first day of orientation in July that I realized how good my decision had been. At orientation, I met the twenty-nine other peer mentors from thirteen CUNY colleges. The FI team made us feel welcome and provided a sense of tranquility in an intimidating environment. They greeted us with swag bags that included T-shirts, pens, magnets, and other trinkets; they also provided bountiful mental and physical nourishment that kept us energized and engrossed.
Throughout the two-day orientation, the FI team presented the mentors with various challenges designed to build confidence and gave us opportunities to speak truthfully about our feelings and thoughts. Through activities such as think-pair-share, interactive games like “Who Wants to Be a Peer Mentor?,” and group work involving role playing, we learned about the qualities of an ideal peer mentor and practiced our mentoring skills. These activities were designed to prepare us to become official FI Peer Mentors at our respective colleges, where we would help provide resources, advice, and support to fellow students throughout the academic year and beyond.
After orientation, we gathered for monthly meet-ups to discuss our progress as peer mentors and bond with mentors from other CUNY campuses. During these meet-ups, we learned about other mentors’ successes and tribulations. As time progressed, I began to use the resources provided at the meet-ups to assist students on my campus. In doing so, I noticed improvements in my leadership skills as well as an urge to spread resources to all students via the FI blog, which I began contributing to regularly.
In addition to offering a strong foundation for mentoring, the program has provided academic opportunities that have propelled me to new levels. Through it, I gained training and practice in copyediting and became an undergraduate editor of Structuring Equality: A Handbook for Student-Centered Learning (Ashton 2017). I also gained acceptance to the CUNY Pipeline Program, which provides educational and financial support to CUNY undergraduates from underrepresented groups who are interested in earning a PhD at the CUNY Graduate Center or another university. These opportunities are stepping stones to the career I hope to have in journalism. The Peer Mentoring Program provided me with a strong foundation not only to embark on this journey but also to work toward achieving my future career goals.
Through the FI Peer Mentoring Program, I have made academic gains—and I have gained another family. The FI team and my fellow peer mentors have offered kindness and support throughout my various endeavors. Any time I have required assistance with a difficult situation, they have provided insight. Like a family, the group pushes its members to see their true potential. Becoming a member of the FI Peer Mentoring Program is one of the best decisions I have made. In just one year, I have grown, overcome obstacles, and become a better person.
Ashton, Hilarie, ed. 2017. Structuring Equality: A Handbook for Student-Centered Learning and Teaching Practices. New York and Durham, NC: HASTAC. https://www.hastac.org/sites/default/files/structuring-equality.pdf.