Why I Am a Mentor•
I could have used a mentor when I arrived at college in the fall of 2007. I was one of the top students in my high school in Georgia and had taken several AP and honors classes. My parents valued education and had always pushed me to pursue postsecondary education. I thought I was well prepared to attend Georgetown University.
But my freshman year was a huge culture shock. I was a minority, and not just because I am African-American, but because I had gone to a public high school and didn’t come from a wealthy background. I felt pressure to fit in, even though I didn’t have the same resources as the other students.
Looking back now, I realize how different that first year would have been if I’d had a mentor – someone who had been in my shoes and understood what I was experiencing. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt so alone during the whole process.
That’s why I jumped at the chance to become a mentor last year, working with a young woman who just completed her freshman year at American University in DC. This new program, Ascend, helps first-generation college students adjust and succeed during their freshman year. Ascend is offered through Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT), a leadership-development organization that helps young adults of color achieve their full career potential and is part of the Opportunity Nation Coalition.
I ended up transferring to the University of Georgia for my sophomore year. At the time, it was the hardest decision I had ever made. I felt I was failing somehow by leaving what I thought was my dream school. But, deep down I knew college wasn’t supposed to be this miserable. Going into $100,000 of debt for four years of unhappiness was not a price I was willing to pay.
Transferring to the University of Georgia was one of the best decisions I ever made. I held leadership positions with several campus organizations, met life- long friends and graduated cum laude with a 3.78 GPA. Saturdays in Athens, cheering on the Bulldawgs, are some of my most fun and cherished memories. I felt like I got to do a college do-over. I was able to thrive because there was more of a community for students of color, and my professors took a sincere interest in me.
I got my bachelor’s degree in accounting and went on to earn a master’s in accounting, also from the University of Georgia. I became a CPA.
Last year, I left my job at a Fortune 500 company and transitioned into nonprofit work as a fellow with ProInspire – a highly selective fellowship for early career business professionals who are passionate about social impact. I am also currently a MLT MBA prep fellow, receiving personal coaching and mentorship in preparation to applying to the top business schools later this year. That’s another reason I was eager to be a mentor with Ascend. As someone who has and continues to receive support to achieve my goals through MLT, I wanted to give back and help someone else achieve hers.
As an Ascend mentor, I was provided a curriculum and coaching calls. My mentee and I check in once or twice a month, sometimes in person and sometimes on the phone or via email. We talk about her academic and social growth. I help her with the financial aid process and make sure she is ready for midterms and finals. I also encourage her to connect with older students at her university who can help to guide and support her and make sure she is plugged into the campus community.
In May, I received an email from my mentee. She told me she was having a really good time as part of an African dance group that was recently recognized as an official club by the university. She was voted most valuable dancer by her team. Her grades are good and she also found a summer internship in DC.
It made me so proud to see her thriving. Being a mentor has made me realize that my challenges have happened for a reason, and that I can use my experiences to help someone else.
It’s come full circle for me. I’m on the path I am supposed to be on. After obtaining my MBA, I plan to go into consulting to learn how to use strategy to solve society’s toughest problems. I then hope to work for a social enterprise or nonprofit dedicated to education, college access and closing the opportunity gap by ensuring equity and access to economic mobility for all American children.
I believe that mentoring – a key component of Opportunity Nation’s call to tackle unacceptably high levels of youth unemployment and disconnection, We Got This – is a powerful tool to help accomplish this goal. I feel privileged to be in a position where my experience and skills can help young Americans get their fair shot at the American Dream.
Tracy Williams is an Opportunity Leader who attended the 2015 National Opportunity Summit. She is on a mission to increase cross-sector collaboration and to diversify leadership in the areas of education equity and access to economic opportunity. Tracy is a fellow with ProInspire, MLT and StartingBloc. She uses her experience as a CPA in the private sector and her passion for social change as driving forces for impact. An Atlanta transplant living in Washington, D.C., Tracy enjoys a newfound love of running half-marathons, culinary adventures and traveling – whether it be the world or her own backyard. You can follow her on Twitter: @_tracy_marie