Participants reflect on 1869 Scholars mentorship program


Illustration by Genevieve Humphreys

“While you’re at college, the most important thing you can do outside of the classroom is to start building your personal panel of advisers, and your mentor can be one these people,” said Katie Storey, Young Alumni and Student Programs coordinator.

The 1869 Scholars mentorship program, created to connect and pair students to alumni mentors and develop their academic and professional careers, began in summer 2016 with a trial group and later a pilot program. The 2018-2019 academic year is the third year it has run. The program was funded in part by a $33,000 grant from the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE) Foundation.

“[The] grant fund from NetVUE [goes] towards materials (curriculum, books for the mentors, journals for all participants, pens), marketing and for travel for the University team to present Trinity’s program at conferences,” Storey wrote in a follow-up email interview.

Trinity alumni are the main orchestrators of this program, as they serve as the mentors to the students, but alumni who are Trinity faculty also worked to develop it. These include Experiential Learning director Jacob Tingle, Student Involvement director Jamie Thompson, former Resident Life director Melissa Flowers and Career Services director Twyla Hough — all who focus on the student-learning aspect.

Storey is also a part of the team, primarily framing the experience for alumni and helping them connect with Trinity in a meaningful way through this program.

According to Storey, this year the program nearly doubled to include 107 pairs, 12 of which are “distance pairs” of student mentees and alumni mentors from across the country.

Two tracks are available to selected students, mainly depending on their year. Sophomores and some juniors partake in the vocational track, focusing on honing in on the direction of their career paths, while juniors and seniors generally fall under the skills-articulation track in order to prepare them for their careers after graduation.

“It’s about where you are developmentally in your process at Trinity. Sophomores are far more likely to be [unsure] about exactly what they want to do, so the vocational track is more appropriate for them, whereas skills-articulation is most appropriate for seniors,” Storey said.

Sophomore Meghan Desai heard from former students in the program that it was an amazing experience and was intrigued to apply.

“I applied for the 1869 Scholars program to make a connection with an alum who had experience in a field I might pursue after graduation. I enjoy mentorship and knew that any alum I could connect with would serve as an invaluable mentor to me,” Desai said.

Desai learned many critical skills when meeting with her mentor, a graduate in Trinity’s Master of Arts in Teaching. They met monthly or bimonthly for a total of four sessions.

“My biggest takeaway from this program is how to really reflect on who you are, your values, your experiences, and your goals and use them to make healthy choices for your future. Without self-reflection and self-awareness, making these choices can be extremely difficult,” Desai said. “[E]veryone’s takeaway is probably unique and individualized.”

Nadia Islam, 2012 political science graduate and member of the Alumni Association Board, has sophomore Noelle Barrera as her mentee. (Barrera is a Pulse reporter for the Trinitonian.)

“The program is supposed to make sure that we are able to focus on things that are not purely provided by Trinity. So it’s not supposed to be just a career mentorship, and it’s not supposed to be a tutor,” Islam said.

Though the program had provided a frame for the mentor-mentee discussions, it served more as jumping-off points in their experience.

“I found that the kind of structured guideline that Trinity had provided wasn’t doing too much for me and Noelle. We would run out of things to talk about when we tried to follow that strictly,” Islam said. “I think for us it was a little bit better when we freestyled it and she talked about whatever was going on in her life at the time and whatever she thought would be helpful that I could do.”

Mentors assist students in a variety of areas, from academic advice to networking and career development.

“I’m happy to help [Barrera], to review scholarship application essays, to look at her papers. I know we talked about summer internships and strategizing on how and where she should apply. I can work with her on cover letters and things. We talked about how to handle the opportunities that Trinity throws at students: instead of doing every possible activity, test a few and pick one that you’re good at and like,” Islam said.

For Islam, the relationship she has developed with Barrera through this mentorship has been eye-opening in terms of seeing the Trinity college experience today. She does not see their communication and mentorship ending even after the semester ends.

“It was most successful when we got to the part of our conversation when all of a sudden she gets really excited and is talking about everything that she’s doing,” Islam said. “Her eyes light up and you can tell that that’s actually what she’s interested in. Learning to catch that little details about a person I didn’t know before is pretty rewarding.”

Students, alumni and staff involved in the program see it as a success not only in its academic and professional goals, but also in terms of the long-lasting and rich connections the mentorships create.

“For those on the skills track, our assessments have shown that they are learning how to articulate their skills regarding the things that they’ve done on campus, in a way that’s meaningful for future employers or for graduate school interviews,” Storey said. “Those in the vocational track are learning how to better mirror their personal value system with what they want to do.”

As an additional measure of this success, 81% of the alumni participants last year rated their experience as a nine or 10 out of 10 and 61% said that they were more likely to engage in opportunities on campus because they were a part of the program, according to Storey. As for student participants, 64% anticipate staying in contact with their mentors and 85% reported their mentor providing support and encouragement.

Desai, like in other student reports Storey shared, appreciated the deep connection, challenges and opportunity it allowed her.

“I absolutely loved having a mentor this year,” Desai said. “The program required a lot of introspection, and it was really nice to have a consistent mentor to meet with and guide me through those conversations. My mentor and I connected really well, and our personalities both really fit in with the overall goal and message of the program as a whole.”

On Tuesday, March 26, the program held a reception for the students and their mentors, wrapping up this unique experience with a meeting and some final speeches.

The NetVUE grant expired this March. Despite funding coming to a close, Storey added that each department involved has requested funding in order to share the costs that will arise. The program may have to change certain parts of the experience without it ending completely.