Mentor, mentee- I’ve been both, and I honestly couldn’t say from which role I’ve learned the most from. Mentors have been guiding me since high school, and the scholastic trajectory they set me on led me to where I have set root to thrive- college.
As a first-generation student, I needed all that guidance to maneuver the college admissions process; learning what to look for in a college, how to best present yourself in your application, and even tricks to increase acceptance chances are all things my parents couldn’t have provided since they didn’t go to college. But being in college doesn’t mean all the hard work and learning is over. Now, more than ever, is when seeking out a role model is crucial. Getting into college was a mere step to take- staying in college is the real ordeal, when your willpower and resourcefulness is tested. The easiest way to gain access to resources college offer is by shadowing someone who has a head start on navigating college: an upperclassman.
Sometimes, when reflecting upon my freshman year (which happens frequently as I am still trying to fathom how I’ve spent a year in college, and the novelty of college is channelled to freshman, not me) I recall in awe the arbitrary reason I set myself up for such a lively, exciting year. When I visited Reed College, a Reed student who I’d known from home insisted I sign up for Reed’s “Peer Mentor Program,” a program for students of underrepresented backgrounds. Having experience with mentoring, I decided it wouldn’t do any harm to sign up to be a mentee. It made such a difference.
Attending college, making this your lifestyle, and doing so successfully is a feat. It’s something nobody teaches you how to do, but learning as soon as possible is imperative to getting the most out of your classes and overall experience. College can feel like a maze riddled with trap doors. A mentor is somebody who has traversed the maze, found the exit, and walked back into the maze with a flashlight to help others who have entered the maze.
Through the Peer Mentor Program, I got a head start in making friends and feeling like a part of the community, because my mentor helped me get acclimated to the school culture and college lifestyle. She knew spots on campus ideal for studying, and was also familiar with where to find different things of campus, off to the city. She gave me important insider information regarding free opportunities the college offered, and services I could take advantage of as a student. She helped me navigate the college’s different websites with ease, and was there to answer tricky questions regarding forms, financial aid, and school policies. Campus traditions and social events became less intimidating when my mentor gave me candid, extensive information on what exactly went down during said events.
A vital aspect of college mentors is that they let us know what comes ahead; as we fumble our way around the maze called college, our dread is assuaged by the figure who holds the flashlight ahead of us, revealing the turns, the trap doors, and the dead ends. Obscurity invites fear, and when a light is cast upon what is ahead, one can see the exit, and the wonderful sights to stop at along the way.
As I don the role of being a mentor this year, I am confident I can give back to my community of marginalized college students. Drawing upon the experiences of my mentor and my own, I’m happy I am there for students who feel lost or in need of encouraging words. I’m there to let students know they’re not alone, and to impart upon them things I think are important about college. In doing so, I learn about my own values and methods, while in turn I learn from how my mentees interact with college themselves.