By Kathleen Furore
Mentorships always have been an important aspect of getting a foot in the door and climbing the career ladder. But many people from underserved communities don’t have the connections often needed to find someone to help them along. Why is mentorship so important, especially to young adults from underrepresented groups? And what are some tips that might help these “next generation” students find mentors no matter the field they’re interested in pursuing?
MENTOR, an organization dedicated to helping students from all walks of life find mentors, explains it this way: “Systemic and growing inequity manifests as gaps in opportunity, networks and access to adult relationships outside of families.” To help fill that gap, the organization has created what it calls “a movement” designed to “fuel the quality and quantity of mentoring relationships for America’s young people and to close the mentoring gap for the one in three young people growing up without this critical support.”
Mentoring works in many ways and can serve many functions, notes Kevin Davis, founder and chairman of First Workings, a nonprofit that helps underserved New York City high school students develop workplace readiness skills.
“Crucially, mentors can advocate for students from underrepresented communities, while also providing a safe space for students to explain any barriers they face,” Davis says.
Mentors also can help students “navigate their journey towards what they are most passionate about pursuing,” says Dr. Emma Benn, associate professor of population health science and policy at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS).
Benn also is founder of the Center for Scientific Diversity (CSD) at ISMMS, which is committed to increasing representation and retention of underrepresented students in the biomedical research workforce – and she knows first-hand how important mentoring can be.
“It was a medical anthropologist who gave me my first exposure to bioethics and public health as an undergraduate,” Benn recalls. “As a mentor, she exposed me to a field that I had no idea I would even be interested in pursuing, but I started realizing I was very passionate about it. Without this particular mentor, I would not have even considered going into biostatistics, as I had never heard of it.”
There are many opportunities available that students and prospective mentors can tap.
A new partnership between CSD and First Workings, for example, exposes high school students from underrepresented groups to careers in science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM). According to Davis, First Workings connects teens interested in medical and science fields with mentors and internships at the Center.
Other organizations include:
• The Global Mentorship Initiative. Created from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Digital Jobs Initiative, this program helps prepare underserved college students for their first career job by partnering with university professors to identify hard-working students who are eager to start their careers.
• Mentor Foundation USA. This is another program designed for underserved high school students. The goal of its career mentoring program is “to ensure that students are prepared for post-secondary education, trade schools or entry-level professional success.”
Whatever road a student takes toward finding a mentor, creating a LinkedIn account and tapping that network is a good place to start, Davis says.
“Students can search for companies and executives in their field of interest and send them invitations to connect,” he says. “Once connected to a potential mentor, students have the opportunity to pitch themselves for a conversation.”
In that pitch, Davis says students should explain that they are passionate, hard-working and committed but do not have social or familial connections in the field they are interested in, and that they would like advice on how to find an appropriate mentor.
“Asking for advice is a more subtle way of asking this new connection to become a mentor themselves,” he explains. “Students should have an elevator pitch on hand, so that they can present themselves in the most concise and compelling way. The more potential mentors the students reach out to, the greater the chance they have of finding one.”
And it may take working with multiple mentors at different stages of a career journey, Benn notes. In fact, that is the road that led to her current career.
“Once I understood that I wanted to merge my expertise in biostatistics with health disparities research, I was eventually able to find mentors aligned with my interest to assist me with navigating that next stage of my journey,” she says. “I think students should find mentors both within and outside of the fields they intend to pursue as they will be able to both expose them to new fields as well as help them delve deeper into specific areas of a field that excite them the most.”
Kathleen Furore is a Chicago-based writer and editor who has covered personal finance and other business-related topics for a variety of trade and consumer publications. You can email her your career questions at email@example.com.
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