Reyana and Shannon: A Mentoring Journey

When Reyana, a student at Union Square Academy for Health Sciences, first heard about iMentor she was hesitant. She was a 17-year-old, first-generation high school student, who dreamed about a career in dental health. She knew that there would be unique challenges on her path to success, however she never anticipated how much of an impact her soon to be mentor would have on her.

“I was introduced to our class, expecting it to be a regular program and was expecting to not really like my mentor,” Reyana shares. “But when I met Shannon I was immediately surprised because she looked like me, and we immediately connected through our similar interests.”

Shannon, a Black woman, had always believed in the power of representation. When she heard about the iMentor program, she felt drawn to the opportunity to help black and brown students navigate the often-tumultuous journey towards higher education. The program aimed to support first-generation college students, just like Reyana, and Shannon knew she could make a difference.

Their journey began with a simple email. She was intrigued by the program's mission. Although not an artist herself, Shannon is creative and connected with Reyana's artistic talents, who helped illustrate a book for kids explaining COVID-19 and how to deal with some of the challenges of the pandemic.

When they had their first Zoom meeting, it felt like a reunion between long-lost family members. Reyana opened up about her life and dreams, while Shannon listened attentively, offering guidance and support. Despite their generational and geographical differences, they found common ground and quickly built a strong rapport.

“My first impression was amazing. It felt like she was my little sister, and she just needed someone to talk to. I didn't expect that, considering the generation gap between us. High school pressures are different now than when I was her age. She's 17-18, while I'm 42. We also come from different backgrounds, me growing up in Virginia and her in the city,” Shannon says. “But we hit it off right away, having great conversations and sharing similar interests. She's artsy, and though I'm not skilled at drawing, I'm creative, which was really cool. She aims to be a dentist, and I'm into science, so we connected on that, too. From our first meeting, our bond has remained strong.”

Their mentorship extended beyond the formal program meetings. Shannon and Reyana began meeting for dinners, trying out different restaurants in the city. In these informal settings, they discussed school, college entrance exams, and Reyana's ambitions to become a dentist. Whenever Reyana needed help with a college application, or just needed a sounding board, Shannon was there to offer advice and help her navigate the complexities of career choices and financial planning.

One challenge that Reyana grappled with was what college to attend. At first, she thought she may want to attend a historically black college. However, Shannon was able to bring in outside help to advise her, she set up a call between her, Reyana, and Shannon’s mother, a soon-to-be retired college counselor in Virginia! Leveraging Shannon’s mom’s expertise, she provided Reyana with scholarship information and directed her toward opportunities she may not have been aware of. She also helped set her up with scholarship opportunities and guided her through the financial aid process. With their support, Reyana made the decision to stay closer to home to pursue her dreams.

Their mentor-mentee relationship grew stronger with time. Reyana not only saw Shannon as a mentor but also as a trusted friend and confidante. She began sharing her personal challenges, such as deciding on her chosen career path. Shannon provided reassurance, reminding Reyana that it was normal to have doubts and encouraging her to explore all possibilities. She wanted Reyana to feel supported in her choices and empowered to follow her true passion.

Through their journey together, Shannon witnessed Reyana's growth and resilience. Reyana, in turn, saw Shannon as a guiding light, someone who had overcome similar obstacles and could relate to her experiences. Shannon's unwavering commitment to Reyana's success inspired her to push through challenges and stay focused on her goals.

When the day finally arrived, Reyana proudly announced her decision to attend St. Francis College in Brooklyn and pursue her dream of becoming a dentist. Shannon was filled with joy and pride, knowing that she had played a small part in shaping Reyana's future.

Looking back on the mentorship experience, Shannon realized the profound effect it had on her own life. She had learned so much from Reyana, gaining a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by today's youth. Shannon's commitment to Reyana and the belief in the importance of representation had driven the relationship forward.

Shannon and Reyana weren’t the only ones that noticed the profound impact of their relationship. iMentor Program Manager, Ashley Denney, supported the pair and acted as a bridge between them. “They both have such positive energies and have really come together this year to support each other through difficult times. Shannon has done everything she can to support Reyana; for example, Shannon connected Reyana with her mother, who works as a counselor, and shared her connections to HBCUs. Shannon also shared with Reyana her experience attending Rutgers University, which helped Reyana prepare for attending college herself at St. Francis College in the fall! They both are amazing leaders, with Reyana being heavily involved in leadership at her school and Shannon coming to Reyana's school (USA) to share her experience working in clinical research. They both always remember to celebrate each other's wins and accomplishments, and I'm very privileged to have seen their teamwork in action!” says Ashley.

Reyana has been an inspiration to Shannon. “I want to be actively engaged in making positive changes in my community, I want to continue to speak to students in other classes and if you're able to encourage students to be better individuals and better humans, I feel like we have a good a good chance of getting out of the craziness that we're in right now," Shannon shares.

As Reyana embarks on her college journey, she carries with her the lessons and support she received from Shannon. The bond they forged will forever remain a testament to the impact one person can have on another's life. Shannon’s dedication to Reyana not only had a deep impact on Reyana, but also gave Shannon a new perspective on life and helped her truly make a difference when supporting her mentee into her post-secondary life.