January is National Mentoring Month, and we are highlighting a number of perspectives on mentoring, events, and ways you can get involved in the field. Today’s blog is a Q&A with Mandy Drew, who leads usability research, recruiting, and video projects at Alleyoop, a division of Pearson. Alleyoop is helping kids get ready for the 21st century workplace by attacking the college readiness problem. Mandy is equally passionate about helping teens realize their goals and aspirations, just as she did herself.
- Tell us a little bit about yourself.
- Why do you think youth mentoring is important?
- Who were influential mentors in your life growing up? What did you learn from them?
- What do you think is the most important thing a mentor can do for a child?
- If you have personally been a mentor, tell us what that experience has been like. If your organization has been involved in supporting mentoring, tell us what you are doing and why your organization is involved in mentoring.
- Complete this sentence. If every child had a caring adult in their life…
I was born, raised, and casserole-fed in a small, rural town in the great state of Michigan. In some ways, I am still very much a product of that environment. In others, I know I owe my current successes to the many caring mentors who helped me believe in myself, showed me how to live up to my own potential, and made me understand that there is no limit to my own possibilities.
Growing up, I often felt the extremely conservative values surrounding me did not match the very liberal views I held. As a teen, I worried there was something wrong with me because I longed for a much less traditional lifestyle than what was typical of the region in which I lived. Without open-minded mentors to help me understand the world is a very big place with many different points of view, I may have continued down a path of alienation and disillusionment.
Ms. Smith was my 11th grade history teacher, and she became a real mentoring force in my life. At the time, I was beginning to explore the feminist side of myself and I really loved how she taught not only the “male” side of history, but what she called “herstory.” She encouraged me to feel empowered as a female in an environment that found that type of thinking pretty subversive. I don’t know how she did it: not only was she going through a divorce that year, she was also battling breast cancer. By the middle of the year she had lost all her hair due to chemo treatments, yet she refused to wear a wig. She just wore her bald head to school with pride every day and eventually, as she recovered, her hair slowly grew back in. I remember thinking that was so brave of her. I TA’d for her my senior year and we both celebrated the day she grew enough hair that she could put it back in a tiny pony tail.
The most important thing my mentors did for me was to broaden my horizons. They showed me there was so much more to life than what I was currently experiencing. They told me how much better life could be and they told me exactly what I needed to do to get there: work hard and really commit to my education. It was hard waitressing my way through school—first through community college, then earning a bachelor’s degree, and finally achieving my master’s degree—but Ms. Smith was right. It was worth it to be where I am now.
The Alleyoop team has a very strong commitment to supporting and mentoring young people in our community. Currently we’re working with students at Bird Street Community Center in Dorchester, and this month, we’re hosting students from Boston Collegiate Charter School. This spring we’ll be conducting our first job shadow days. Personally, I am in the process of becoming a Big Sister with the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston, and I also serve on Boston Collegiate Charter School’s Collegiate Council.
Then every child would have a chance to see beyond their current situation and understand there’s no limit to their own possibilities.