Christian and Ranjit: The Art of Mentoring

This January, iMentor celebrates National Mentoring Month. We honor all the mentors, teachers, parents and family members in our community who are supporting iMentor students and helping them pursue their ambitions.

Ranjit Chatterji and his mentee Christian have something enviable: a deeply valuable mentorship based on mutual trust that is now six years strong, with no sign of stopping. But it didn't start that way.

"When we first started working together in a classroom setting, sometimes Christian spoke so softly I had trouble hearing him," Ranjit recalls of his initially quiet mentee.

But Ranjit and Christian both kept showing up to monthly meetings and grew more comfortable with each other. Ranjit learned that Christian liked to cook and ride his skateboard, and Christian learned that Ranjit is devoted to his family and friends and frequently travels. Over time, their relationship blossomed into something spectacular: a deeply valuable mentorship based on mutual trust that is now six years strong, with no sign of stopping.

“Ranjit is a very good listener. He’s always reaching out if I either have a problem or if I need to update him on things that have been going on,” said Christian. Added Ranjit, "I think we have a relationship now that is really based on a lot of trust on both sides.”

After Ranjit discovered a few months into the match that Christian had a passion—and quite a bit of talent—for the visual arts, the pair began taking half-day trips to some of New York City's greatest art museums, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art.

"That's when I was really able to draw him out of his shell," said Ranjit.

“At the time, I was still thinking, do I want to commit to art? Ranjit taking me to the museums and showing me all these paintings, statues, and carvings was really eye opening,” said Christian. At the Met, the Chinese and Japanese calligraphy exhibits made a particularly strong impression on him.

Following the museum trips, Christian bought a calligraphy brush and began to try to imitate the calligraphy and ink landscape paintings that had so inspired him. “If I hadn’t seen all these different types of art in person, I don’t think I would have had the same interest in art,” he said.

In time, Ranjit encouraged his mentee to pursue a career that marries his love of arts and computers—which is exactly what Christian is now doing at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, NY, where he is pursuing a fine arts major and taking the foundational courses to set him up for a career in either commercial graphics or video game design.

In the second half of Christian’s high school journey, the mentoring relationship really ramped up. “Having built our relationship slowly from the beginning really helped us to be in a strong spot when the college process began junior year," said Ranjit.

Though Christian was a highly motivated student, the complex college admissions world was daunting for the first-generation immigrant from Mexico, who had to split his time at home between studying and taking care of siblings.

While he initially applied to several four-year colleges, Christian faced some setbacks as he struggled to find a post-secondary option that he could both qualify for and afford. With Ranjit's support, Christian made the decision to start with a two-year program, and he is now working hard with the goal of transferring to a design program at a City University of New York school.

"It was incredibly rewarding to be able to help Christian navigate the college process,” said Ranjit, “When I first attended mentor orientation all those years ago, I felt a little awkward because I was so much older than a lot of the others in the room. But I soon realized that age doesn't really make a difference when it comes to a strong mentoring relationship."

Ranjit also noted that as a mentor who recently entered retirement, he had the benefit of extra time on his hands to devote to his mentee.

For Christian, having a long-term mentor like Ranjit has meant not only having extra support for challenges that arise, but also gaining different perspectives on how to approach life.

“With Ranjit as a mentor, I get to see things through somebody that’s had more experience in life,” said Christian. “Before, I'd really struggle with trying new things or doing things by myself. Even going to the museum—I didn’t want to go by myself. I didn't know how it would work. But witnessing Ranjit seeing new things and opening up to new ideas really helped me mature and get a new sense of how to view things.”

Six years into this mentoring relationship, Ranjit’s advice to other new mentors is simple: Be patient.

"Good relationships require time and continuity,” said Ranjit. “The first couple of years of the relationship are just setting you up for the huge payoff that's coming later—for both of you."

Interested in being a mentor? Check out "9 Steps to Become a Great Mentor" and watch two longtime mentors, Molly Haleblian and Sherman Reid, as they share their experience in "Mentoring Matters: How to Be an Effective Mentor."