At first glance, Aminah and her mentor, Jill, may seem like they don’t have much in common. Aminah, a senior at Macalester College, is studying biology with an emphasis in biochemistry and minor in chemistry. Her mentor, Jill, has her Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering from Kettering University, her Master of Science in Industrial Engineering from the University of Michigan and is the Chief Supply Chain Officer at Dealer Tire. They come from different cultural backgrounds and are at different points in their lives. But, through the College Now Mentoring Program, the two women have forged a connection that benefits them both.
The College Now Mentoring Program is a requirement for students receiving a College Now or Say Yes Cleveland scholarship and pairs scholarship recipients with an adult mentor from the Greater Cleveland community who will support them during their college years. Since many students receiving a College Now or Say Yes scholarship are first-generation college students, they do not always have family or friends who have been through the college process before and can answer questions or offer guidance during challenging situations. Mentors have “been there, done that,” and can provide students with advice and support on anything from financial aid to choosing a major or finding an internship.
When Aminah first heard about the College Now Mentoring Program after receiving a College Now Scholarship during her senior year at Bard High School Early College, she found herself looking forward to having a mentor, while also being unsure of how much she would really need the support.
“I had the notion that, maybe, I wouldn’t need the contact as often as the program’s monthly and yearly requirements,” said Aminah. However, once she met Jill, Aminah’s stance began to change. “My first impression of Jill was positive; she was an intelligent, accomplished woman in STEM. I started to see the positive points that College Now had by requiring us to have a mentor, and being contacted by her regularly and being able to review things with her has been helpful.”
Additionally, added Aminah, Jill has been able to help her in situations where she wouldn’t otherwise know what to do. When Aminah was having issues with her financial aid, Jill provided suggestions and advice for places to seek out additional funding – and, Aminah said, the option that worked was one she never would have thought of on her own!
Jill, who said she didn’t know what to expect when she joined the program but was inspired by the concept, was equally impressed by Aminah during their first meeting. “She has a very specific goal and is going to do what she needs to do to make it happen,” said Jill. “It’s rare that you meet someone [Aminah’s] age who knows exactly what they want to do; she is a woman on a mission.”
And even though that mission – to pursue a master’s degree and PhD in pharmaceutical science – doesn’t follow Jill’s career path, both Aminah and Jill have found ways to connect on both an academic and personal level.
“It’s good to be paired with someone who has a different career path, but one that is still similar being in a STEM field. We can relate on many things and her experiences are helpful in thinking about my future,” said Aminah. “Also, Jill being an accomplished woman in STEM puts her in a circle of other accomplished women in STEM who are in a variety of different careers. Her network has given me other connections for things like internships and networking.”
Jill agrees that their different career paths haven’t been a hinderance to their relationship at all.
“No matter what your career path is, you need the same attributes to balance what you are working on,” she said. “STEM fields are similar – male-dominated fields, difficult course loads. I think I’ve been able to help Aminah with carrying a heavy load but finding balance – finding fun amidst the pressure and chaos that there can be in such a challenging course of study.”
When Jill and Aminah aren’t chatting about the pressures Aminah may be facing during her coursework, the two women love to chat about their personal lives and fun, exciting activities they have coming up with their friends and families. With Aminah going to school in Minnesota, the two talk mostly virtually during the school year but meet up in person for a meal when they are both in the Cleveland area.
The College Now Mentoring Program makes that distance easy to navigate in a mentor/mentee relationship. The program requires mentors and students to talk twice a month via Chronus, the online platform used by College Now to facilitate the program, and to meet in-person three times per year, though those meetings can be virtual – on FaceTime or Zoom – if needed. Though the time commitment is minimal, pairs like Aminah and Jill demonstrate how valuable having that support can be.
“I had my dad, professors and work managers who were great mentors to me, so I know the impact a good mentor can have,” said Jill. “[The College Now Mentoring Program] provides support to the mentee and someone to keep them accountable to. It’s a great program to keep scholarship recipients focused on graduating.”
“Even if you’re apprehensive about the program, keep an open mind and actively engage,” said Aminah. “Jill’s advice has been invaluable.”
To learn more about the College Now Mentoring Program and to apply to be a mentor yourself, visit College Now’s website at https://collegenowgc.org/get-involved/become-a-mentor/.