Imagine seeing a student who was struggling with goal-setting yesterday flourish and prosper over the years to become a goal-oriented and conscientious adult. Imagine a teenager challenged with financial issues combat those barriers to get a scholarship to the dream school of his/her choice. Imagine a young adult restricted by fears, anxieties and insecurities of the future, only to have all that remedied by the simple solution of the presence of a role model in their life: a role model that believes in them and maximizes their potential. A role model equipped with experience and personal challenges of their own to help them restore their self-esteem.
Just two hours a week working with young adults can lead to creating a productive community in the future: this is the kind of foresight and vision that mentors at The Collaborative Mentoring Program have when they seek to educate, inform, motivate, inspire and pave the way to create young leaders and reliable Samaritans tomorrow.
The Collaborative Mentoring Program at Rutgers was officially established in 2010, with the goal of empowering school students and put them on a college-bound trajectory. Throughout the program, Rutgers students become community-service leaders in the local and surrounding New Brunswick area. While two hours in a week might be a slight time commitment in the busy week of the typical Rutgers student, those two hours mean the world to an adolescent who is trying to navigate his/her confusions through school. These undergraduate Rutgers mentors harness their own strengths and capabilities to provide their mentees with a safe space for their progress, both academically and emotionally.
The program is designed to ensure that Rutgers mentors receive the adequate training and information to appropriately mitigate issues related to cultural sensitivity, overcoming obstacles of education disparity and increasing awareness for their mentees what life after school would be like, and facilitating that transition at a healthy pace through activities, workshops and reflection sessions.
Having a positive impact on young adults and fostering a productive community are equally rewarding for mentors who wish to instill in themselves responsibility and accountability for other individuals as adults, and expand their own skills of communication, leadership, and community service.
Allison Warner, Education and Mentoring Coordinator for the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service oversees all the initiatives of the Collaborative, and also instructs the 3-credit mentoring class that covers mentoring techniques and best practices, communication skills, models of adolescent development, and college access issues.
“The ideal mentor is an active listener who is committed to provide consistent academic and interpersonal support to his or her mentees. Benefits of serving in the program include the opportunity to make a potentially life-changing impact on young people in our community and
the opportunity to gain leadership experience that will be of value in a wide variety of fields.”
Sam Cytroen and Mitra Ghandeharizadeh are both Rutgers Seniors and are committed to the Collaborative’s vision by being dedicated mentors. Sam has been mentoring for two semesters now, and Mitra will be acquiring the mentoring certificate after two consistent years of being involved with the program. They mentor at different sites that cater to different age groups and have distinctive visions for their students’ progress.
Mitra is currently a Psychology major looking to pursue a Psy.D degree in clinical psychology, and aspires to work with young adults and adolescents in the future. Sam majors in History and as an aspiring teacher, he hopes to further his understanding of the classroom and get more practical hands-on experience to become a high-school Social Studies teacher in the future.
Mitra started off mentoring at a program called “Rutgers Future Scholars Students” that focuses on students who are the first in their family to be on the route to college, who are selected on the basis of recommendations by their teachers and guidance counselors.
“They need a mentor because they don’t have as much support as a student who has gone to college and has that level of guidance or encouragement. It was a really great experience to coach them on different aspects of college readiness; I was there for three consecutive semesters.”
This semester, Mitra has begun mentoring at the New Brunswick Health Sciences and Technology as part of the “Reach Program”, where she reaches a greater number of students in a more social and informal atmosphere.
Sam’s first semester was tutoring with a program called “AVID-8” which focused on students who performed averagely to ensure they could outdo their current progress and excel. He is now at an exciting program called “Upward Bound” where he mentors students from 8th until 12th grade.
“One of my mentees is tutoring for SAT Math with me, and that’s pretty admirable. It’s great seeing their personal growth, because one week they’ll be confused about a problem and the next week, they will bring back a quiz that they did great on. It’s exciting to see them make that progress.”
However, their mentees aren’t the only people benefitting from the experience. Sam and Mitra both attest to the fact that mentoring has given them a wealth of knowledge about youth issues, and they are confident they understand the complexities of adolescent development much better than previously.
On a whole, being able to provide another individual the support to flourish is incredibly rewarding, Mitra says.
“Everyone was a teenager at one point, and it’s rewarding to help people overcome obstacles you once faced. Public speaking-wise, you really learn a lot too because you’re required to regularly stand up there and take lead.”
One of the main concerns as a mentor that they both agree on is wondering if your advice is sufficient, and sometimes being bold enough to admit you don’t know something. Part of being a mentor is however, stepping out of your comfort zone and making sound decisions.
Adapting to the requirements by different programs that constitute approaches and methodologies while navigating a new environment are also significant challenges.
“Some students don’t want to be there, so part of the challenge is convincing and reassuring them that there’s a reason they’re enrolled in the program. Only good things will happen in the long-run and it is worthwhile.”
Finally, what makes these great mentors tick? Who instilled in them these fundamental values that helped get them where they are today? Who shaped their worldview, visions and ambition?
Sam believes the most essential quality for a mentor to have is ensuring everybody maximizes the potential in their life. It is important for a mentor to invest their 100% in a mentee. Sam looks up enormously to his father, Andrew Cytroen, for being a mentor, role model and father to him.
“He’s always trying to teach my brothers and I how to do the right thing. He teaches us responsibility, valuable decisions and he has taught me how it is important to be open and non-judgmental as a mentor. He’s all about fostering close relationships and is extremely family-oriented.”
Mitra talks about the value that a hands-on program like The Collaborative has had in the duration of her college career. Gaining real-world experience in an engaged fashion to address the issues of the community are something she believes all students should commit themselves to.
Sam ends the conversation on a profound note, directed at students who themselves hope to serve as mentors someday, “Be the mentor you wish you had.”