Mentoring Best Practices Tips: Teach for America

Teach For America’s Top 5 Mentorship Tips

By Chante Chambers and Jasmine Sanders

Chante Chambers is a vice president of recruitment at Teach For America. Jasmine Sanders is a director of recruitment at Teach For America.

Being the first person in your family on the path to attend college can be intimidating. You may not know what is required of you during the application process, or what resources are available to you – and family members who want to help aren’t able to draw upon their own experiences to do so.

For such students, getting to college is only half the battle. Once in an undergraduate setting there are new systems to navigate, new cultures to become acquainted with, and new expectations to live up to. All of this “newness” can be detrimental without the proper supports in place. Nationally, 89 percent of low-income first-generation students leave college within six years without a degree. More than a quarter leave after their first year — four times the dropout rate of higher-income second-generation students.

Students who face this challenge deserve to learn how to effectively operate in college, develop their leadership potential, and experience academic equity and access which contribute to successful lives. Mentorship plays a critical role in helping them get there.

This past year we helped Teach For America and Fisk University partner on a first-generation college mentorship students – with several students pursuing STEM degrees. Below are the top five tips we’ve learned for helping historically underrepresented students pursue their passion for STEM education.

  1. Consistency: During the initial stages of the relationship, consistency is critical.  If you schedule time with your mentee, it’s important to follow through, keep the appointment, and be on time.  Naturally, things come up and appointments may have to be missed, but clear and early communication to mentees about missed appointments is important.  In the trust-building process, consistency is extremely beneficial, so this is key.
  1. Patience and Vulnerability: Patience is important in developing any genuine relationship.  When you think about the relationships that have been most beneficial, sincere and longstanding, they are more than likely bonds that took time to develop.  Your BFF didn’t become your best friend in a week!  Don’t be discouraged if it takes some time for the mentor relationship to grow and flourish—it’s completely natural. A common misconception in mentoring relationships is that the mentee is required to be open, while the mentor serves as a the reserved counselor.  In order for the mentorship to be a mutual learning experience, it requires the mentor to be just as, if not more, vulnerable with the mentee.  The mentor should be able to model sharing openly with their mentee to create an environment of shared trust.  If a mentee consistently witnesses a mentor being open and vulnerable about their areas of growth, goals, concerns, etc. the mentee will in turn be more willing to share their own experiences as well. 
  1. Clear Expectations/Goals: Setting clear expectations and goals is vital in mentor relationships.  It’s helpful in the beginning to set clear expectations around what each party wants out of the relationship.  What do you hope to gain from this mentor relationship? What do you expect to give to make this mentor relationship successful?  What personal goals would you like to accomplish?  What can we hold each other accountable to achieving in this relationship?  These are just a few questions to get the ball rolling on setting individual and collective expectations/goals around the mentorship connection. 
  1. Confidentiality: During the first stage of the relationship, it is important to establish confidentiality.  The mentor should let the mentee know that whatever he or she wants to share with the mentor about their experience will remain confidential. Confidentiality, particularly actively and consistently practicing confidentiality in your mentor relationship, develops trust.  This supports the ability to be vulnerable, yet safe, in difficult conversations
  1. Suspending Judgment/Assuming the best: Mentor relationships can be tricky to navigate; these are often connections where neither the mentor nor the mentee know a lot about the other person.  The beauty of diversity is that naturally folks will have many differences—whether it’s something as significant as cultural, racial or language differences or something less obvious like norms around communication—it’s normal for mentors and mentees to have disparities around how they operate/function.  Given this, it’s critical that both mentors and mentees suspend judgment and assume the best in each other despite differences in communication, working styles, etc. 

Gold Award Recipient Represents Girl Scouts at STEM Fair held in Washington, D.C.

By: Girl Scouts

On Thursday, July 24, Girl Scout Gold Award Recipient Olivia Sullivan from Girl Scouts of the Nation’s Capital represented Girl Scouts at a STEM fair held by Women’s Policy, Inc, in Washington, D.C.

For her Gold Award project, Olivia organized a five-day camp for second and third graders who live at SERVE homeless shelter in northern Virginia. Olivia worked with a local elementary school teacher to create twenty activities designed to introduce children at a young age to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Since the completion of her Gold Award project, Olivia has organized STEM programs for Girl Scout troops and 4-H clubs. Olivia will be attending St. Olaf College this fall, where she plans to major in Biology with dreams of serving our country in the Navy as an OBGYN.

Prominent female members of Congress from both sides of the aisle attended the event. Members in attendance included Rep. Donna Edwards, Co-Chair, Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues; Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Chair, Republican Conference, and former Co-Chair, Women’s Caucus; Rep. Susan Brooks, Co-Chair, Education/STEM Task Force, Women’s Caucus; Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, Co-Chair, Education/STEM Task Forice, Women’s Caucus; Rep. Lois Capps, Co-Chair, Women’s Health Task Force, Women’s Caucus; and many more.

MWM Explodes to 160,000+ Pledges in One Week

Last, week Million Women Mentors (MWM) in partnership with the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) took social media by storm, with its “Mentor Fireworks” campaign. Playing off the celebratory fireworks during the month of July, MWM erupted with pledge commitments from over 22 states amounting to over 110,000 new pledges. Participating states included: Alaska, California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia. Each mentor will commit to a minimum of 20 hours and the initiative has five suggested mentor pathways.

Beyond commitments from state networks and STEM collaborative’s, both MWM and the “Mentor Fireworks” campaign have also garnered attention from national leaders dedicated to recognizing the importance of STEM and its role in the future of the American workforce. One of the key leaders spearheading the national push and call to action is Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa. Lt. Governor Reynolds will announce Iowa’s mentoring commitment and has recently issued a challenge to her fellow lieutenant governors to mobilize the business communities in their states to commit to Million Women Mentors pledges.

“The Million Women Mentors initiative is an opportunity to become actively involved in mentoring.  Mentors will be able to guide, encourage, and open doors for young women to be fully equipped for the great jobs of tomorrow in STEM-related careers,” said Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds.  “In the United States, STEM is a driving force behind economic growth, stability, and educational success. That’s why we’re creating an environment in Iowa that prepares all of our students with the necessary skills to compete in a global knowledge-based economy.”

Following the endorsement of Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds, the Lt. Governor’s of Georgia and Tennessee both signed on to pledge their support of the MWM initiative and the advancement of girls and women in STEM.

“With the importance of STEM skills growing throughout the country, it is critical that we encourage women to explore the opportunities that growth affords them. The Million Women Mentor initiative is doing just that, and that is why it has my unbridled support.” –Lt.Governor of Georgia, Casey Cagle

“I am proud to support the Million Women Mentors initiative in our state and look forward to the positive results it will bring. With evidence showing a lack of women and girls entering STEM programs and careers, it is more important than ever to translate strong STEM outreach and advocacy into action. I encourage the people of Tennessee, corporations and STEM-serving organizations to support MWM by taking the ‘pledge-to-mentor”—Lt. Governor of Tennessee, Ron Ramsey

The level of support MWM has received from all its sponsors, partners, and affiliates has been overwhelming and we are greatly appreciative. With nearly 170,000 pledges logged onto, our team will continue to keep the momentum going as we begin planning for the end of the year and the start of 2015. Thank You to the National 4-H Council for the recent contribution of 30,000 new pledges and special thanks to NGCP, Fleishman Hillard, the Lt. Governor of Iowa’s office and Senior Adviser Sheila Boyington for their assistance in bring the “Mentor Fireworks” to life. Stay tuned into our bi-weekly newsletter for more updates and visit the website to watch the numbers grow!


The Million Women Mentors Team