Will: I was introduced to the Telementor program through internal marketing efforts by my employer, MasterCard. MasterCard is involved in a number of initiatives that benefit the community by helping youth through education. I received emails and saw flyers posted on campus about Telementor.
Personal Traction: What prompted you to get involved?
Older adults had such a huge impact on my life during my middle school, high school, and college years. Because of their mentoring efforts (both formally and informally) I feel like I had an advantage over others. While others were focused on social status or pleasing mom and dad, I was focused on life application. My mentors helped me develop a greater personal awareness and that enabled me to use my education and extracurricular experiences in the context of life, and not just to “get through graduation.”
I jumped at the opportunity to give back. If I could provide just a portion of the impact on a young person’s life that others had on me, the risk of involvement would be well worth it!
Personal Traction: What sort of personal benefit do you gain from participating? What makes you say that?
Will: This is a great question. I don’t think I asked myself this question until now! Originally I joined Telementor because I thought my involvement would help me be recognized as a team player. However, the real benefits of interacting with students have outweighed the original, albeit selfish, motivation.
Today my primary benefit is interacting with students who are well outside my current work, family, community, and church circles. It’s great to interact with people from all over the world to be a more well-balanced person and maintain a broader worldview. Telementor is a great opportunity for mentors and mentees to broaden horizons.
Part of my personal ethic is to help make the world a better place. Certainly what many would call my “religious convictions” play a role here. I believe it is my responsibility to live not only for myself but for others. I feel like I have something to offer students just by telling my story; offering what I’ve learned for the benefit of others gives me a great sense of contributing to society!
Personal Traction: What are some highlights of working with students?
Will: Although I don’t have a specific “highlight” to speak of, there is one moment that is really significant to my relationship with students: the moment the light bulb turns on! It’s one thing for a mentor to offer suggestions and work alongside a student with a standard “thanks” reply. It’s quite an amazing moment when students understand the “big picture,” when both their work and their understanding of it change for the better. Hopefully grasping a broader perspective throughout a mentoring experience will also help how they process their life, too.
Personal Traction: How does what you do in mentoring, relate to the bigger picture?
Will: Life is miserable when I’m focused solely on myself. One simple phrase I’ve learned in life is this: it’s not about me. When I’m mentoring students, I get the focus off of me. When a student is mentored, the volunteer sets forth an example of giving himself for a cause outside of himself. That example is more powerful than a hypothetical situation or than what clever story can accomplish. Part of “big picture thinking” is captured when a student looks at the world as being bigger than himself.
One other consideration about mentoring and volunteerism, in general, is how important it is to experience relationships wherein one authentically cares about you. So many in a student’s life may have motivating factors that are not necessarily for the student’s best interest. We volunteers are genuinely interested in a student; volunteers in general do not have ulterior motives, and that helps create an authentic relationship for which everyone longs.
Personal Traction: What sort of formative experiences in your own education relate to your mentoring approach?
Will: When I was in high school my biology teacher, Mr. Stone, took special interest in me. He really invested in me outside of the classroom and encouraged me to apply the things I was learning into my immediate context, which, at the time, was agriculture. I was able to use that encouragement to develop an incredible, intense science project that spanned many months and required hours and hours of research, analysis, and data gathering. Mr. Stone allowed me to work on the project during class and after hours. He also introduced me to the “real deal” biologists and agricultural science experts at Purdue University. At Purdue I was able to interact with professionals in the field I was studying, as well as use their specialized equipment to analyze my samples, quantify data, and do so much more than was possible in my high school. Mr. Stone really opened my eyes to the power of someone’s personal investment in a student and how significant applying educational opportunities to real world scenarios can be.
Personal Traction: What advice or tips might you have for others considering mentoring a child?
Will: If mentoring seems intimidating or scary, it is. At first I wasn’t sure I had anything to offer, but quickly realized that was just fear of the unknown. Recognizing that I have my own story to tell is huge.
Personal Traction: What makes you say that?
Will: Using my own stories in the context of where a student is at (in life and in education) is both helpful to the student and eliminates some of my fear. Just keeping an authentic dialogue, using personal stories, and being honest, makes a mentoring relationship much easier to cultivate.
Personal Traction: Regarding mentoring and education, Is there anything else you care to add, emphasize or share?
Will: Simply asking a student what makes him or her “come alive” as a person is an incredible approach. That’s how I want to approach every relationship—helping students recognize their passions. If I can help a student see his project or assignment through the lens of his passion he may just “come alive” in his work and see the tasks as exciting ones rather than mundane.