"Begin with the end in mind." This phrase is from business guru and author Stephen Covey's book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and defined the approach for the Inspire U Mentoring Program at UTSA.
The end goal of Inspire U was to continuously mentor students from middle school until high school graduation.
"This program is the result of an effort that began in 2009 when Communities in Schools, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the City of San Antonio—with guidance from UTSA professor Michael Karcher—launched a city wide-effort to partner youth with professional and academic tutors who could support teens in academia.
Students dared to dream big, and Inspire U reflected this vision as a working model where students could link their education to a future career. The program's first mentors came from Rackspace, CPS Energy, H-E-B and other local businesses and agencies. Soon, monthly lunches between middle schoolers and professionals were taking place at work sites.
At UTSA, the Institute for P-20 Initiatives led the first student mentorship in 2011 by partnering university faculty and staff mentors with their own mentees from a group of 10 seventh-graders from Mark Twain Middle School. They enjoyed riding the bus to the UTSA Downtown Campus and rushing to get in front of the lunch line.
Supporting teens takes patience, trust and great mentorship. The staff from BBBS worked together with the UTSA faculty and staff mentors on ways to decrease cafeteria line chaos, and developed programming that increased comfort and patience from all mentees.
"If it hadn't been for my UTSA Mentor, I might have not stayed in school or graduated."
-Celeste, Inspire U mentee
Then the sign came—one day a young boy sat with his lunch in front of him without touching any of the food. He happened to be waiting to eat with his mentor who was driving from UTSA Main Campus. This moment confirmed the growing value and respect of the mutual relationship.
The program also worked to curb student dropout rates. Although Texas ranked in the top states with 81 percent of high school graduation rates, dropouts continue to be challenge for school districts. In 2012, two students left the Inspire U program during their high school transition. Their experience helped Inspire U upgrade programming for mentees in their second year.
For example, San Antonio leaders such as the Chief of Police along with leaders in other professions were invited to speak at luncheons. Students visited Café College to learn about getting a head-start in researching college applications and financial aid. They attended a UTSA basketball game with their families, and visited the UTSA Main Campus and San Antonio College.
Inspire U committed to the development of the young students' public speaking and future-planning skills. The mentors created dream boards with their mentees that would display future homes, colleges, careers, cars, families and future vacations. Dreams and plans were half of the conversations with their mentors. As the mentees continued through their high school years, other conversations focused on bullying, poverty, teen pregnancy, truancy and academic struggles. With aid from the Big Brothers, Big Sisters support specialist, UTSA mentors encouraged their student mentees to maintain grades and to stay in school despite challenging circumstances.
Through their high school years, other conversations focused on bullying, poverty, teen pregnancy, truancy and academic struggles. With aid from a BBBS support specialist, UTSA mentors encouraged their student mentees to maintain grades and to stay in school despite challenging circumstances.
Mentorship persistence resulted in key life decisions for the high schoolers. For instance, one student, Celeste, stayed in school after the birth of her child. Another student who had previously dropped out of school, returned, and graduated. A third student got a summer job which helped alleviate the family's financial stress.
"I became part of Celeste's life," said her mentor, Patrice McElfresh, a senior advisor for the Institute of Economic Development at UTSA. "I visit her home regularly and have meals with her family. I saw the need for support systems for all teens. Although it is easy to complain, is not until you put yourself in their shoes that you realize how much your presence and help are needed."
In 2015, at the end of their junior year of high school, UTSA mentors and their students decided to give back to a school through a service project. They felt this action was a positive way to conclude the program and celebrate their upcoming graduation.
Former Edison alumna and UTSA Volunteer Center Director Cristina Dominguez spoke to the group about volunteerism and service. Her words inspired a plan to plant a garden at Edison High School. Thanks to the title sponsorship of Superior Health Plan, the Inspire U Mentoring Garden became a reality on April 9, 2016. Students, mentors, and staff dug up and arranged patio plants for an entire day. The project taught students the importance of setting goals, keeping commitments, and giving back to the community.
In the end, UTSA mentors realized that the past six years of mentorship have helped students in their education and in becoming young adults. Program administrations hope that the sense of civic responsibility in students continues long after high school graduation.
UTSA and the Institute for P-20 Initiatives are committed to increase the number of mentors for local students, and are proud to serve as the state liaisons to MENTOR, the National Mentoring Resource Center. Together, the agencies and university will continue to create awareness about the need for well-trained mentors across Texas.
For the faculty and staff at UTSA, taking the mentorship challenge will always be rewarding. For the students who were mentored, the program has had a life-changing impact.
"If it hadn't been for my UTSA Mentor, I might have not stayed in school or graduated," said Celeste.VISIT WEBSITE
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Community Connect magazine is an annual publication produced by the Office of the Vice President for Community Services (VPCS). The mission of Community Services is to extend UTSA beyond its campuses into San Antonio and South Texas through public service, extension, outreach and community education. This mission is accomplished through a variety of programs and initiatives, some of which are showcased on this website.