How mentoring challenged me to think bigger

I went into mentoring a bit intimidated and doubtful about the value I could bring to a high school student looking ahead to college. I’m originally from Australia, where the college process is hugely different, and the American way felt completely foreign to me.

When I was paired with Rasaiah in 2014 through iMentor, I was grateful for the support from staff, but I kept asking myself: When I was 15, what would have made me want to hang out with an adult I hardly knew? For me, it all came down to friendship, and I made the conscious decision to be a friend to Rasaiah from the start.

Rasaiah and I seemed to be pretty well matched in terms of interests and personality. I saw a lot of myself in him. I was a kid who had a lot of potential and a huge imagination, but not a lot of drive. One clear distinction that I made almost right away was that Rasaiah was more mature than I was at his age. At our first meeting, he told me he wanted to go to college to study psychology, and anyone who wants to be a psychologist in 11th grade is a special kind of kid. I respected him for being so clear about his interests.

I work in advertising at UM Worldwide, where my firm develops marketing plans for global brands that want to connect with all kinds of audiences. Marketing involves understanding the psychology of buyers. Once I made that connection, I had a jumping off point for my relationship with Rasaiah. I talked to my director and was able to set up an internship where Rasaiah could come in for a few hours one day a week and see how the world of advertising uses psychology theory to market our products.

I went to Rasaiah and said, “Okay, you want to study psychology? That’s great, but let’s really look at where a degree in psychology can take you and how it can be applied to business.” We started by getting him to think about the campaigns I was working on and how we could reposition them to his demographic. My clients are Reese’s and Hershey’s. It’s a teenager’s dream.

From there, I set up meetings for him with folks from different departments so he could learn about their roles. I wanted him to see that there are a lot of fun things out there that he could do. It’s not all desks and debriefs. In fact, he’s already seen some top-secret, senior-level, stuff, like Super Bowl ads. It’s been great. And he gets to eat a ton of chocolate as well.

My colleagues also get excited to see Rasaiah each week. Many of them have started asking about the iMentor program and how they can get involved. Our CEO has been especially supportive. This experience has shown me the true power of mentoring. It brings people together and changes them for the better.

Rasaiah knew he wanted to go to college and he knew what he was interested in, but seeing him become more confident and focused has been an awesome and humbling experience. He’s starting to think bigger — about college, his career, and his future.

When we started this relationship two years ago, neither of us could have imaged it would turn out so well. I had romanticized being a mentor. I thought it was going to be this beautiful, great thing. And it is, but not for the reasons I initially thought. Rasaiah has inspired me, too. Every week, he challenges me to think bigger, and there’s so much more to come.

He is now attending LaGuardia Community College this fall. I’m excited about the possibilities that mentoring has opened up for us.