My Experience as a Mentor with Starfish Initiative

Posted by Lisa Robinson on

January is National Mentoring Month. Over the coming weeks, WFYI and the American Graduate Initiative will be sharing stories of mentors and mentees whose lives were changed by a mentoring relationship, and will be identifying ways you can become a mentor and make a difference in a young person's life.


In July 2015, I became a mentor and college coach to P, a girl about to start her freshman year in high school.  P qualifies to be a Scholar in the Starfish Initiative program based on her school performance and her family income, making her also eligible for Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars program that provides students the opportunity to earn up to a four-year scholarship at an Indiana college or university. 

I was pleased to experience Starfish’s comprehensive evaluation process that included a background check and an extensive interview.  As a result, I was matched with P, who has a personality and qualities remarkably similar to mine.  Being college-educated, I can serve as a resource and provide support in P's post-secondary decision making process.  I can help P understand some challenges and temptations likely to come up, and to take the time to make mindful choices that will serve her well.  I guide P to make good choices in high school that prepare her to be a successful student at a college or university that’s a right fit for her.

Starfish Initiative offers programming that does a great job of assisting with this process.  There’s a wonderful weekend Leadership Camp experience that scholars are required to attend annually (unless they happen to be a senior taking college entrance exams or involved with homecoming activities that coincide with the camp weekend).  I was glad to serve as a chaperone during the Leadership Campe, which gave me the opportunity to see how P managed the experience and interacted with her peers.  Although there are some separate learning experiences for scholars and mentors, mentors are encouraged to attend all mandatory sessions for scholars.  This opportunity really helps mentors support their scholar’s learning and growth.

Starfish is an amazing organization.  They have a great model that can make a difference for young people who really need it.  P is fortunate to have a stable home where her parents are both present and supportive.  However, her parents didn’t attend college and can’t guide her through the challenges of college preparation in the same way that I can with my hands-on, personal experience. 

My mother was not college-educated, but my stepfather coasted to graduation with a bachelor’s degree.  As a family, we had modest means, but big dreams for what could be possible.  I had to learn some things the hard way; I attended a college away from home and had a lot of flexibility that, in all honesty, I didn’t know how to handle.  I made some decisions that did not serve me well, and I had to learn how to make course corrections.  I had to learn how to study, especially for classes that were challenging.  I was able to graduate with a high GPA in four years.  That was a huge accomplishment.

I think about the world P lives in, which is so much more complex than what I experienced when I was her age.  I was incredibly fortunate to have some luck paired with my innate tenacity, but that probably would not be enough for a young person trying to enter and graduate from college today.  That’s why I volunteer with Starfish.  I want to give back and share what I’ve learned to help a young person to best manage their own challenges.

The required initial commitment with Starfish is for two years, so that the scholar can benefit from a mentor’s guidance in the early part of their high school experience.  However, I can’t see myself saying goodbye to P after she finishes her sophomore year.  I want to be there to cheer her on and to help her identify alternatives when choices are challenging.  I want to see P get her high school diploma in that wonderful ceremony, and know that she will be going on to a bright future.

I think back to my Starfish orientation.  There was a panel discussion that included several mentors, and a scholar who was a recent high school graduate.  One of my new, fellow mentors asked the scholar about the most surprising experience that he had with his mentor.  The scholar was a reserved, young man who looked down at his hands while he was deciding what to say.  Then, he told us about his upbringing, where his mother was a struggling, single parent who always supported him and his success, but, she couldn’t do it all alone.  The scholar turned to his mentor sitting next to him, and briefly touched the mentor’s arm.  His eyes bright, the scholar looked out at us in the audience.  He said that his mentor had taught him how to be a man.  There was not a dry eye in the room. 

The value of volunteering isn’t measurable, but can be worth so much.

What touched you about Lisa's story? Who do you know who is working to mentor young people along the path to high school graduation? Share your thoughts in the comments below and on social media using #AmGradIndy.


LRobinsonPhoto.png  Lisa Robinson currently works as Program Director of the Woodrow Wilson MBA Fellowship in Education Leadership at the University of Indianapolis.  Her background is in learning design and application, performance coaching, and human resources.  She's enthusiastic about continuous learning, creativity, volunteering, and mindfulness. 

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