With the recent launch of its fourth annual Social Impact Fellowship, Close the Gap Foundation kicked off the summer mentorship program with a Mentoring with Empathy Q&A panel on May 28th, 2022.

With the guidance of the Board of Educators (BoE), the mentoring with empathy workshop prepared mentors to work with the mentees for the next 3 months to build meaningful relationships and provide guidance for the Social Impact Projects.

Serving their second term as Close the Gap’s Board of Educators and joining this year’s Mentoring with Empathy Q&A panel are:

Here are some takeaways and learnings from the session we wanted to share with any current or aspiring mentors.

How to Empathize

Working with mentees who may not share the same identities can be challenging to the mentors. With her research work on human connections, acclaimed author and professor Brené Brown addressed how empathy fuels connection.

“Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘You’re not alone.’”
— Brené Brown, Research Professor at University of Houston

Empathy is key to bringing people together and understand each other regardless of cultural and socioeconomic gaps. Empathy can help establish positive relationships and strengthen connections between mentors and mentees.

Close the Gap's Board of Educators echoed Brown’s key steps to practicing empathy:

Actively listen and validate the experiences of the mentees. Appreciate their vulnerability.  Be open-minded and understanding. Celebrate each other’s similarities and differences. Believe the mentees.

How to Engage

Connecting virtually can present many challenges to both mentors and mentees. As experts on remote learning, Close the Gap’s Board of Educators provided the mentors insightful tips and guidance on how to engage mentees in a virtual setting.

Building strong relationships virtually

Mentees can be distant online and may not be comfortable turning their cameras on. Trying to connect to a black box instead of a face can be discouraging but take this opportunity to explore your own creativity. Start meetings with fun and interesting questions. Change virtual backgrounds and profile pictures occasionally. Ask questions. Pick up on the small details. Utilize the chatbox. Mentors can also encourage a two-way teaching moment for the mentees to give technological advice to mentors who might not be too familiar with online platforms like Discord.

Modeling behavior and sharing vulnerability

Being used to interacting mostly with their own peers, mentees may not be comfortable opening up to “professional” adults. Bring up personal stories to show the mentee that their mentor may share similar experiences with them. Share vulnerability with the mentee to connect organically and help avoid conversations from going silent. Modeling these behaviors would help more reserved and shy mentees to open up more.

Setting boundaries

It can be easy to get caught up in some conversations with the mentees but it is important to redirect back to the topic or goal of the meeting. Establish clear boundaries and expectations early on. Find the balance between being the adult in the relationship while still being open-minded.

Giving critical feedback

Give the mentee a chance to explain, and then, accommodate accordingly. Ask the mentee what they need from their mentor. Avoid making the mentee feel guilty. Emphasize that the mentor is coming from a place of care.

“Start with something positive. Come up with positive statements. Check-in and let them explain. Talk with a passive voice. Taking the “We” and team approach shows that you’re walking together instead of mentor vs mentee” — Magret Nunes, Board of Educator at Close the Gap

To express interest in joining next year’s Board of Educators and stay in touch with Close the Gap Foundation, send a note to hello@closethegapfoundation.org or sign up for our newsletter!

About Close the Gap Foundation

Close the Gap Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Sunnyvale, California. Founded with the vision to create an equitable future without opportunity gaps for low-income youths, Close the Gap Foundation works to empower first-gen, low-income students to build lifelong confidence and reach their fullest potential. Close the Gap Foundation Close the Gap Foundation’s President and co-founder, Tai Tran, has been recognized as a Forbes 30 Under 30 and LinkedIn Top Voice.

Close the Gap Foundation’s flagship program, the Social Impact Fellowship, is a three-month all-expenses-paid program that helps first-generation, low-income high school students find mentors, grow their confidence, and give back. Through structured mentorship and project-based learning, Fellows work with mentors from renowned organizations like Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and UCSF to tackle a self-directed social impact project to pitch to a panel of industry leaders.

To learn more about Close the Gap Foundation, visit www.closethegapfoundation.org.

To learn more about the annual Social Impact Fellowship Program, visit www.closethegapfoundation.org/program/fellowship.