Tips for Finding a Mentor: What Every Student Needs to Know
And now, please welcome our guest blogger, Alfredo Gutierrez, who will be sharing some tips on finding and approaching mentors. This is Part 1 of 5. Here’s the next post in the series.
Hi there! I’m Alfredo, a fourth-year student at New York University, I read a lot, and there are a lot of different things I wish I had known as a youth. As a first-generation student, and the first person in my family who went to high school and college, I felt like I was going into this whole experience without a map. Everything was new to me: deciding my schedule, taking honors and AP classes, making connections with my teachers, and applying to college. Once I got to NYU, it was even newer – but what kept me grounded was always my support group of peers and adults who helped me every step of the way. Through these blog posts, I want to share some of my experiences and some advice for anyone who needs it, but especially for those without a map.
I. Brother David and the Importance of Mentorship
It took me a long time to figure out not only why having adults supporting me was important, but also who and how to ask for mentorship. Sometimes it’s been teachers and professors, other times it’s been people at work or in my community. One thing I know for sure is that without these adults in my life, the road to where I am now would have been much harder. When I was in the 7th grade, I had my first mentorship experience with Brother David, my homeroom and religion teacher. He made himself available for me and the rest of the students, who found that he was not only really helpful in terms of getting our grades up, but a really good listener.
Growing up, my parents were always there for me when they could be. My dad, who has worked at the same restaurant for 25 years, would always drive me to school in the morning. My mom, who worked a lot less, would pick me up and take me home. I had no shortage of parental support, especially not in elementary school. I felt like I could talk to them about school, about friends, about anything that was on my mind. It was all very easy, at least it felt that way. As I moved into middle school, though, I found myself struggling a bit.
My parents really only spoke Spanish, and that wasn’t ever an issue until I felt that what I was experiencing couldn’t be translated. In the 7th grade, when I found myself struggling in every way possible, I felt distant from my parents. I couldn’t tell them why I wasn’t doing as well in school, or why I spent a lot of my time in my room with the door closed, or why I was hanging out with my friends less. The feelings behind a lot of these either didn’t translate or sounded unserious. This is when I came across my first unofficial mentor, the person who taught me the importance of mentorship.
My middle school was Catholic but independent, which meant that the students said prayers and went to mass, but they didn’t have to be Catholic to go there. It was a small school, and each year had a homeroom divided by gender. My 7th grade homeroom teacher, Brother David pushed us to join the 7th Grade Boys’ Support Group, which was a more structured space where we could share what we were feeling and what we were struggling with, academically and personally. Brother David let us know that he was around for anything we needed, and became one of the first people to show me personally the value and importance of an adult who championed me and wanted to help me succeed.
Parents, for the most part, can be a good source of support and I recommend talking to them if that’s possible. However, I had friends who had a difficult relationship with their parents, one where they couldn’t talk to them as freely or at all. For these friends, Brother David opened up a world of possibility. Having an adult in their lives who could give them honest advice was something new and important. I spoke to Brother David about my struggles in science class, about problems I was having with my friends, and even about the problem of translation with my parents. He was never condescending, never intrusive, and never asked for me to share more than I did. It was refreshing, having an adult who not only understood me, but who also checked up on me It felt different from the relationship with my parents because it was his choice.
So my first tip is: look for your Brother David.
I mean, look for someone who is putting himself or herself out there who is not teaching your academic classes — a homeroom teacher, a person who leads a boys’ or girls’ support group (even if you don’t want to join that group), or another person who you feel comfortable talking to, who is a good listener. It takes courage to talk, but with someone like that, you never need to share more than you want to, and just opening up a dialog can be really helpful.