Becoming a mentor has always appealed to me. To me, being a mentor meant I had my life together. Growing up in a low-income household the thought of an office job was the pinnacle of success.
Going to college and building a career always seemed like foreign concepts as a teen, I had no idea on what college admission board were looking for or how you even go about building a career. Eventually after getting tired with labor work and sometime in community college I was able to figure how to acquire that elusive goal of a white-collar job.
Entering the World of Mentorship
After completing university and starting my career, I felt a sense of hubris with my corporate job. I thought I had made it, and if I could climb the socioeconomic ladder, others could follow my path. When browsing online, I saw an opportunity with Close the Gap to be a mentor, and it seemed to be a great way to give back!
After applying and being accepted, it made me ponder what it meant to be a mentor. At the time, a mentor was someone you wanted to be like and try and follow their path as closely as possible. As I went through the mentor training, I realized the role of a mentor isn't to mold the mentee to fit your success route but to be a compass of support for their own unique journey.
Furthermore, when mentoring an FGLI (First-Generation Low-Income) student, it is crucial to hear where they are coming from. Unfortunately, many FGLI students dream of certain careers and schools but are not given the support or knowledge to help them achieve their ambitions. As a mentor, it's important to hear your mentee's aspirations and not mold them to follow what you have done.
After the Fellowship orientation day, I was able to meet my mentee and we scheduled our first Mentorship Monday. Before the session I had a bit of anxiety, I was concerned if me and my mentee would connect well but more worrisome was my fear that I would not be able to provide benefit to my mentee.
What if my mentee is facing issues I have not faced in my life? What if I don't know an answer to their question? What if I can't support them?
But like most fears, once you face them, they are not as daunting as they once appeared. My mentee was an amazing and ambitious high school Junior. We were able to connect on similar experiences, as both of us came from low-income households. We discussed my mentee's goals, ambitions, and what they hope to learn more about. While it is hard to talk about such personal matters, I found what helped was to be open about my own experiences as well as being an active listener to what they had to say.
Fears Becoming Reality
Although my mentee and I shared some common ground, when they told me about their desire to go to medical school and become a physician my heart sank a bit. One of my fears became a reality, I had studied Engineering and know absolutely nothing about becoming a doctor or what one needs to do to get into med school!
After our first session, my anxiety was back, and I was worried that I wouldn't be able to help them since I wouldn't know what to tell them to help them be a doctor. While my mind was stressed, I remembered what was important, I wasn't there to only provide information, my main job was to support. Even if I don't have all the answers, I can still help support my Fellow in other ways. I may not know the intricacies of med school I can provide support in crafting a resume, applying for scholarships, and finding resources for questions I don't know how answers to.
With that in mind, I also realized although I don't know much about medical school, I know people who do! I was able to connect my mentee to a friend who was going through his MD. Many times, FGLI students may have little or no connection to someone in a career or school they aspire to join. Helping close this network gap is a unique opportunity we have as mentors to these students.
Although I may not have been the ideal mentor for my mentee, I was able to be step in their journey to success. As a mentor it is important to let perfect be the enemy of great. For you and your mentee the goal of any mentorships is growth.
Closing the Gap
Mentoring an FGLI student is a unique experience, it involves you not only reflecting on your lived experience but also learning and understanding what they hope to achieve. While you may not always share a background with these students it is important to listen to their experience and provide support where you can. FGLI students not only face socioeconomic gaps but networking gaps, information gaps and opportunity gaps. Mentorship is an amazing tool that can help support these students overcome adversity.
If you are interested in becoming a Mentor for FGLI students check out our Summer Fellowship page here for more information.
About the author
Anwar is a Program Director at Close the Gap and was a mentor during our 2021 Fellowship. He is focused on building and improving the Fellowship and the organization's goal to create meaningful connections and help facilitate the growth of our Fellows through their journeys.