New Mentoring Program Puts Roosevelt University Mission to Work

CHICAGO–(ENEWSPF)–October 14, 2014.

By Meredith Heagney 

Meeting her new mentor for the first time left Nicole Wilson exhilarated. The senior studying business management is part of a new Roosevelt University initiative pairing students with leaders of local community organizations.

“I’m so excited!” Wilson said, minutes after saying goodbye to Mary Johnson, executive director of Corazón Community Services, which serves youth in the predominantly Latino suburb of Cicero. Wilson’s dream is to start a nonprofit to help African-American youth on the South Side, where she grew up.

“It’s really nice to meet somebody who’s doing the work you want to do and see the changes they’ve made in their communities,” Wilson said. “That means it’s possible for you to go and do it.”

That dose of inspiration – as well as practical career advice and real-world experience – is the purpose of the new Community Partnership Mentoring Program. The initiative is a practical way to fulfill Roosevelt’s mission to help the community while educating socially conscious students. Students benefit from the experience by broadening their perspective while, at the same time, beginning to build their professional network. The nonprofits benefit from the ideas and input of the Roosevelt student and the added visibility a partnership with the University can provide.

“We have a lot of students who are deeply committed to making the world a better place but have no sense of how to get started,” said Megan Bernard, assistant provost for academic engagement, who developed the mentorship program alongside Israel Vargas, assistant provost for college access and targeted recruitment programs.

“Roosevelt is an anchor institution,” Bernard added. “We have an opportunity, and I think a responsibility, to work on behalf of communities who send their members here and with whom we share a city.”

So far, eight mentors and students have been paired, with more to come. The formal mentorship period will last six months and consist of at least eight meetings, with a symposium in April for the students to present what they’ve learned. Bernard and Vargas plan to invite as many nonprofits as possible to that event in order to grow the program’s impact in the future.  

The mentors and students met for the first time over a recent breakfast. After introductions, they talked about social justice causes important to them—topics ranging from education and gender equality to racism and literacy.

At the end of the breakfast, the mentors had the opportunity to network with one another, and many of them exchanged business cards—proof that the program is also helping to strengthen ties between organizations within the nonprofit community, Bernard said.

Johnson, Wilson’s new mentor, said she’ll show Wilson around Corazón soon and start a conversation about how to go from college senior to nonprofit executive director. They will discuss graduate school and possible career paths, Johnson said. She added that she wishes she would have had this kind of opportunity as a student, but that she will benefit as a mentor, too.

“It’s a great way to get connected with our budding leaders,” she said. “Nicole is incredibly impressive. I think we’re going to learn a lot from each other.” 

Like Roosevelt, the partner organizations focus on promoting education and helping populations that have been historically underserved. They are:

Ámate Ahora – A health and wellness advocacy organization fighting disease through awareness and prevention in Spanish-speaking and other communities.

Corazón Community Services – An organization that takes a bilingual/bicultural approach to serving youth in the predominantly Latino suburb of Cicero.

CivicLab – A community workshop space dedicated to collaborative projects that promote education, innovation and civic engagement.

Instituto del Progreso Latino – A support institution for Latino immigrants and their families that provides help with education, employment and other needs while preserving cultural identity.

Irma C. Ruiz Elementary School – A fine and performing arts magnet cluster school serving children in Chicago’s Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods.

La Casa Norte – An organization serving youth and families confronting homelessness, unemployment and related problems.

Renaissance Social Services – An organization connecting those in need with safe and affordable housing and support services to encourage autonomy.

Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center – The longest-standing Puerto Rican cultural center in Chicago promoting native culture and arts.