What's New @ iMentor

Keep up on the latest imentor news

Our blog features posts on new program developments, profiles of our mentor-mentee pairs and news from the mentoring and youth-development fields. Check back often to see what we've been up to or sign up to receive email updates.

Nominate a Male Mentor!

Posted on April 16, 2015 - 6:08pm

We're going big this year! In honor of iMentor's 15th anniversary, we've set a bold goal for ourselves: to get 1,500 men to apply to become mentors by the fall.

We're calling our campaign Project 1500, and we're kicking it off just in time for National Volunteer Month!

If you know a guy who would make a great mentor, nominate him by sending him one of our newly designed e-postcards. We'll take it from there.

All summer long, we'll be updating you on how Project 1500 is progressing. Stay tuned for more fun ways to get involved!

2015 iMentor Wine Tasting Party

Posted on March 19, 2015 - 5:19pm

More than 150 mentors and friends packed the house yesterday at Chelsea Wine Vault for iMentor's 2015 wine tasting party and fundraiser.

The sold-out event, held exclusively for iMentor, featured fine wines and artisanal cheeses from around the world, as well as wine experts to guide partygoers through each tasting. Proceeds from the event and all wine sales will help iMentor make college a reality for even more young people from low-income communities.

“I flew in from San Francisco to be here and will do the same for the Spring Benefit," said Renu Grover, a mentor and member of iMentor's Young Executive Board. "I’m planning my business travels around iMentor events, because they’re that great!"

Each year, the wine tasting coincides with the start of iMentor's volunteer recruitment season. During the event's short welcome, iMentor's Volunteer Team announced the kick off of a year-long campaign designed to recruit mentors for the fall program year.

Anyone interested in becoming a mentor can click here for more information about our program. Click here to see more photos from last night.


Posted on March 13, 2015 - 1:58pm

The results are in and they're kind of amazing. Our mentors raised more than $137,000 during the 15th anniversary Team iMentor Challenge, our annual mentor-driven fundraising campaign that kicked off last month.

During the campaign, mentors created fundraising pages and asked friends, family members, and coworkers to sponsor their mentoring commitment by making a donation. And this year, mentors turned it up a notch. They teamed up with peers who are mentoring students in the same graduating class to create an all-out competition, with the winning class vying for shout-outs, tickets to iMentor events, and year-long bragging rights.

The Class of 2017 came from behind to take first place, raising a hefty $39,345. The top three individual fundraisers — Hal Berson with $12,970, Rema Davis with $12,315, and Jon Williams with $11,490 — were no less impressive. And, we might add, pretty creative.

"I promised my donors that I would play them a song on my mandolin and record it on YouTube if they donated, and it worked!" said Williams, whose rookie performance earned him third place. "However, one of my donors offered to donate if I played but didn't sing."

Williams even got his mentee, John, in on the action by recording him in a short thank you video for all of this year's mentors and donors. The proceeds raised from the campaign will help make college a reality for more young people like John and his classmates.

"This year's Team iMentor Challenge was by far the most fun and inspired, " said Elizabeth Lee, iMentor's associate director of individual giving. "Mentors thought of really original ways to raise money that reflected their passions and personalities. They inspired us just as much as our students."

The campaign may be over, but there's still time to accept the challenge. If you didn't get a chance to support your mentee or your favorite mentor, click here to give a gift today. No donation is too small.  



Pair Profile: Miguel and Ben

Posted on February 20, 2015 - 12:46pm

It has been said that the difference between an obstacle and an opportunity is your attitude toward it. For iMentor student Miguel, it’s all about opportunity.

Miguel was matched with his mentor, Ben, at the start of his junior year of high school. Ben, who has a background in emerging technology and new media, recalls their initial meeting.

“We were both self-proclaimed geeks, and we connected over our shared interest in video games and digital technology. Over the next three months, I learned how intelligent, considerate, and, above all, how incredibly positive Miguel was. That really struck me. Despite a history of tough challenges and personal setbacks, he was so positive.”

At first, Miguel had no intention of going to college. His dream job was to design video games, but he didn’t view college as a necessary path to get him there. “That’s when I really got excited about working with him to develop a college aspiration,” Ben said.

Instead of simply encouraging Miguel to consider college, Ben focused on giving his mentee tangible opportunities to expand his horizons beyond his home neighborhood of the Bronx. To start, the pair toured the offices of NBCUniversal Studios and Rockstar Games/TakeTwo Interactive, a video game company, where Miguel had the chance to meet and talk to software designers.

“There is no reason Miguel couldn’t work at one of these companies,” Ben explained. “I wanted to make sure he knew those professionals were the same as him at his age; that college was attainable; that it would help him land his dream job; and that he had access to the tools, resources, and personal support to make it happen.”

But it wasn’t until Miguel and Ben visited two college campuses that Miguel opened up to the idea of college. “It was inspiring to see Miguel’s excitement level for college grow and to see him be proactive about taking the necessary steps to get there,” Ben said.

During Miguel’s senior year, he worked closely with his school guidance counselor, iMentor’s program coordinators, and Ben to write college essays, navigate the financial aid process, and submit his applications. “I used to panic and stress about all the college application deadlines,” Miguel said, “but Ben taught me to control those feelings by planning and taking my time to do things right.”

Ultimately, Miguel was accepted to several colleges and chose to attend the New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn (City Tech). With Ben’s help, he also secured a fellowship at Microsoft, learning computer coding and entrepreneurial skills during the summer before his freshman year of college.

As part of the program, Miguel designed and built his own mobile app, which he presented to his peers during an awards ceremony on the last day of the fellowship. His app was so creative and well-designed that it won the Audience Choice Award.

Today, Miguel is thriving in college—taking a full class load and working two part-time jobs. He is eager to continue working with Ben as he earns his college degree.

“I’m so grateful for Ben’s support,” Miguel said. “Now I understand what I need to do in life to reach my goals.”

SOTU Special Guest: Anthony's Story

Posted on January 21, 2015 - 11:47am

It’s not every day that the First Lady invites you to Washington, especially for a second time. That’s what happened to iMentor student Anthony Mendez, now a freshman at University of Hartford, who attended the President’s 2015 State of the Union address as a special guest of the First Lady of the United States.

“It was just unbelievable,” Anthony said. “To be able to sit right next to the first lady and have her remember my name. She was so helpful in teaching me how the speech worked and pointing out who was who in the room. All the work she is doing through the Reach Higher initiative has changed my life!” 

In June, Anthony was handpicked by Michelle Obama to attend a discussion on her Reach Higher Initiative, which aims to inspire young people to complete a college education. Six months later, Mrs. Obama personally requested that Anthony sit as a guest in her box for the State of the Union. It is not surprising, though, that he made a lasting impression.

Anthony is the first in his family to graduate from high school and attend college. Growing up in the South Bronx with his mother and three siblings wasn’t easy for Anthony. The men in his life have been at best transient and at worst violent. His mother had to drop out of high school in her sophomore year and has struggled since to find steady employment. As early as first grade, Anthony remembers waking himself up to get to school on time and having no one around to help him with his homework.

When asked about what challenges were the most difficult in high school, Anthony recalls two life-changing events. When he was in 9th grade, his best friend was shot and killed in his neighborhood. Though he doesn’t share a lot about this event, he cites this tragic loss as one of the pivotal moments in his life to date. Anthony quit running track that year and refused to talk to anyone about his friend’s death.

The very next year, in 10th grade, Anthony’s family was evicted from their apartment, forcing them to relocate to a homeless shelter two hours away. Out of shame and embarrassment, Anthony told friends and teachers he had moved in with an aunt. In order to make it to school on time, he had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. every day for six months.

Despite these challenges, Anthony has grown into a quietly confident, funny, communicative, and optimistic young man. He is quick to point out that his strength comes from the mentors in his life. Jack Rogers has been Anthony’s mentor for the past four years though iMentor and Anthony considers his track coach the father figure he never had. Jack, a former college administrator, says he realized what an extraordinary person Anthony is when they were working on interviewing skills. There, Anthony articulated his supremely challenging life experiences in an authentic and inspiring narrative, leaving him feeling awed and inspired. About his mentor, Anthony says, Jack has “always been there for me. I never thought I would know someone like that.” Anthony’s track coach, the father figure he never had, gave him tough love and plenty of encouragement and the mantra, “stay focused.” Describing Anthony, his track coach gushes, citing his state rankings in each event from memory. Anthony is a true leader with an “impeccable work ethic,” his coach says. “Despite all of these circumstances, Anthony still manages to smile and lead a strong team.”

At the University of Hartford, Anthony is persisting despite the challenges of being a first-generation college student. The transition from the Bronx to Connecticut was difficult, especially after breaking his leg and no longer being able to participate in track and field, which was the source of a scholarship. In addition to the emotional setback, the time in physical therapy has meant that Anthony needed to learn time management skills.

Overall, Anthony has had a positive college experience and is especially thankful that his professors have been such a source of support. He has switched majors from physical therapy to political science. He also continues to talk to his mentor, Jack, and they plan to see one another when Anthony is next back from school.

Celebrating 15 Years of iMentor!

Mike O'Brien Posted on December 4, 2014 - 4:59pm
Mike, flanked by some of the amazing iMentor students.

This year, iMentor is celebrating its 15th anniversary. Since 1999, we have connected 13,000 students across the country with mentors, and I am deeply humbled by all of the people who have helped us reach this milestone.

Our mentors are the foundation of our work; they commit at least three years to a single student to ensure that she or he has the opportunity to go to college and earn a degree. Our school and nonprofit partners help us bridge the gaps in our education system by making sure every student has the skills necessary to succeed in college. Our funders and champions invest in our vision to make college completion a reality each year for thousands of students from low-income communities. Lastly, our staff and board of directors work tirelessly to provide our students, mentors, and partners with innovative resources and best practices.

Fifteen years in and what we’ve learned is that there is no single solution to increase the number of students who earn a college degree. There is no single skill that automatically translates into higher outcomes for a student. There is no single conversation that unlocks the opportunities a student needs to get into and through college. There is no single moment that fundamentally changes a student’s future trajectory. There is only steady support, over many years, and the willingness to do whatever it takes to see that student succeed.

This is our challenge, and our unique opportunity. By 2018, iMentor aims to match 20,000 new students with mentors across the country. That’s 20,000 more students like Miguel and 20,000 more mentors like Ben. When Miguel was first matched with Ben, he had no plans to go to college. As their relationship developed that changed. Ben helped Miguel nurture a college aspiration that aligned with his interest in computer programming. He took Miguel on tours of college campuses and helped him get a computer programming summer fellowship. When Miguel decided that he wanted to go to college, but did not think he could pay for it, Ben helped him find schools he could afford. He even created a spreadsheet that detailed how Miguel could pay for his tuition.

Now, Miguel is starting his college journey as a freshman at New York City College of Technology. He works two jobs on top of his studies to help cover his college expenses, and he is one of the most driven young men that I have met. Although he knows the road to a college degree won’t be easy, Miguel also knows that Ben is right there with him to support him each step of the way.

Miguel and Ben’s story is one of thousands that demonstrates the pivotal role our mentors play in transforming the future opportunities of our nation’s young people. As an organization, we know that if we’re going to invest in what works, then we need to invest in people. We’re going to continue to support the relationships between our mentors and students in order to see the long game through to college completion.

This is how we collectively invest in the lives of young people to whom little is given and everything is earned. This is how we move the needle forward. We couldn’t have come this far without the dedication of our mentors, partners, staff, and supporters. On behalf of everyone at iMentor, thank you for believing in our work, our vision, and most of all, our students. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season.

With deep gratitude,

Mike O’Brien

Mike O'Brien Attending White House Opportunity Day of Action

Posted on December 3, 2014 - 5:52pm

Tomorrow, iMentor CEO Mike O'Brien will attend the White House College Opportunity Day of Action, a convening aimed at dramatically increasing college enrollment among young people from low-income communities.

The event is a continuation of a summit held in January, where President Obama challenged nonprofits, higher ed institutions, and business leaders to help academically underprepared students progress to college and be successful once there.

O’Brien plans to announce new commitments by iMentor and our partner organizations to mobilize around the president’s charge.

Back in January, the White House highlighted iMentor’s pledge to match 20,000 new students with mentors over the next five years as an effective solution to improving college access.

“iMentor is honored to play a critical role around President Obama’s call to action,” O’Brien said. “Our announcement at the White House tomorrow will outline how we plan to further leverage the community to collectively support the students and schools that are most in need.”

Pair Profile: Bukky and Anna

Posted on November 21, 2014 - 1:02pm

On paper, iMentor student Oluwabukola looks like the kind of student who doesn’t need much in the way of mentoring.

Bukky, as she is called by friends and family, is a high-achieving student in her sophomore year at Binghamton University. In addition to managing a full workload, she is treasurer of the African student organization, is an active member of the dance team, and holds a part-time work-study job.

“I remember thinking that Bukky was very disciplined and mature," recalls Bukky's mentor, Anna, of their first meeting in 2011, when Bukky was a junior in high school. "She already had a resume and cover letter and knew she wanted to study math and finance. I wasn’t sure how I could help her.”

Bukky, who is originally from Nigeria, moved to New York City with her mother and two siblings during high school. Although her family was supportive of her desire to go to college, her mother was unsure of how to guide her through the college process. That’s where Anna proved invaluable.

It was Anna’s similar experience as a foreign-born student navigating the U.S college system that provided a common ground for the pair. Anna grew up between Moscow and Tokyo and, at the encouragement of her own mentor, moved to the United States during 12th grade to attend college.

“I was fortunate to have influential people in my life who were able to advise me, especially through the complicated college process,” said Anna, a vice president at Amur Capital Management. “Being able to provide Bukky with the same support was personally very important to me.”

With the help of iMentor’s curriculum and comprehensive support, Anna made sure that Bukky successfully navigated the post-secondary process to narrow down her list of schools, write application essays, and fill out financial aid forms.

Ultimately, Bukky was accepted to 10 colleges. “Now that I’m in college,” says Bukky, “the most important thing Anna helps me with is time management. She helped me create a schedule to make sure I stay on top of everything.”

But for Anna and Bukky, iMentor’s program was just the beginning of their relationship. Over the past three years, celebrating important milestones and spending holidays together have become regular events. When Bukky left for her first semester of college, Anna was alongside her family at the bus station to see her off. And last year, Anna attended church with Bukky and her family on Christmas.

On a recent weekend visit, the two took the train from New York City to the Hudson Valley to tour Anna’s alma mater, Bard College. They spent the day on campus, visiting the business school and discussing Bukky’s interest in a career in finance.

In October, the pair shared another memory when they were honored at iMentor’s 15th Anniversary Benefit. There, Bukky and Anna took the stage to share the most meaningful aspects of their relationship with more than 500 guests.

As they look ahead to 2015, they're looking forward to working together as Bukky prepares to transition to upper-level coursework and secure a full-time summer internship in New York City.

“We both went into the program open-minded about what to expect,” Anna explained. “For us, there was never an ‘I’m the mentor and you’re the mentee’ moment. We learn from each other and have built a true friendship. I can’t imagine my life without her.”

Empire State Building in iMentor Orange!

Posted on October 28, 2014 - 1:53pm

In honor of iMentor's 15th anniversary celebration, the Empire State Building will be aglow tonight in our signature orange.

As we celebrate 15 years of partnering with public schools and providing every student with a mentor, we're also eager to look ahead. Over the next five years, iMentor will match 20,000 new students from low-income communities with mentors and replicate our program in three new cities.

We are able to continue to do this work thanks to our school partners, partner programs, supporters, mentors, and staff who work tirelessly to ensure that every public school student has an opportunity to enroll and succeed in college.

Please celebrate with us by taking a picture of the Empire State Building tonight and sharing it online with your social networks using the hashtag #iMentor15.

iMentor Spotlight: Yassamin Davoodi

Posted on October 15, 2014 - 10:26am
Yassi, left, with one of her students.

iMentor’s program coordinators are the backbone of the organization. They are responsible for delivering the iMentor curriculum to students, matching mentor-mentee pairs, and planning and facilitating monthly events. This month’s spotlight features a conversation with Yassamin Davoodi, senior program coordinator.

Q: What was it like to match your first pairs?
A: I was incredibly anxious, super excited, and really nervous. Before matching my students, I had eight weeks to get to know them, teach them about the program, and learn more about what they wanted from a mentor. I got to know the students really well and was excited to start the matching process. But, I was still nervous. I felt like I was going to make or break their experience. But I've learned that it's about finding a consistent and open-minded mentor, not about making the perfect match.

Q: What criteria do you consider when matching a student with a mentor?
A: I present things to my students that can get them excited – sometimes it’s something as small as having the same favorite food. If I know that a student is the oldest in their family, I may look for a mentor who had responsibilities outside of the classroom – whether it was a job or taking care of family members. If a student is quiet, I make an effort not to match them with someone who is going to overwhelm them with being talkative. It’s about finding someone who can respect the student’s personality and help them build confidence.

Q:What does a typical week look like for you?
A: On Tuesdays, I prepare for my sessions. At school, I meet with students, sometimes catching them in the hallways, and following up on things. I also attend meetings with other teachers. I teach all day on Wednesdays. For example, last week I introduced the college application checklist and afterward we had a large class discussion where students had the opportunity to ask questions. Then, the students read their mentors’ emails and responded to them for the remainder of the class period. While they were reading and writing emails, I walked around and did individual check-ins. On Thursdays, I am in the school all day in an effort to build out the college prep portion of our program. As it stands now, the school's guidance counselor works with more than 300 students, so I support her the best way I can. For example, we planned a college fair during parent/teacher night. The college fair went well. We had more than 25 colleges there, which was a big success.

Q:What changes have you seen in your students as a result of the program?
A: I started with my students in their freshman year, three years ago, and now they are in their junior year of high school. The biggest difference I’ve seen, in contrast to high school students who do not have a mentor, is that my students are thinking about college a lot earlier. Resumes are a big thing right now. Mentees are asking their mentors for feedback on their resumes. This year, my students are actually applying for jobs. During my last event, one of my pairs had a mock interview session. Mentees now know that their mentors are the people they can go to practice career-specific skills.

Q: What qualities make an excellent mentor?
A: Consistency, reliability, and follow-through. Great mentors ask questions to help illuminate knowledge gaps and then work with their mentees to address them. I have a lot of mentors who go above and beyond in different ways. One that comes to mind is a mentor who was stuck on a business trip and wasn’t able to attend an iMentor-hosted college campus event. He emailed me asking for a list of colleges that he and his mentee could go to over the following weekend.

Q: What’s your biggest goal for your pairs in the next few years?
A:My biggest goal is to get my pairs through the college process. I want my students to feel empowered, to make educated decisions about the opportunities that they have, and to feel confident that their mentors are there to support them in the decisions they make. I also want to ensure that their communication becomes more independent and that there is no doubt in their mind that they want to continue their match through college.

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