June 5, 2018

Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland Innovation Mission fellow discusses college mentoring program

As a fellow in The Innovation Mission at the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland and a college and career coach at Notre Dame College in South Euclid, Ohio, Bill Leamon is focused on launching a large-scale, low-cost, technology-enabled, micro-mentoring program to make college mentoring easy and increase college graduation rates as a result.

The Innovation Mission is an opportunity for accomplished professionals to advance their innovative ideas to change the trajectory of poverty in Cleveland. The five professionals selected for The Innovation Mission began the fellowship in November 2017. The foundation will be sharing the fellows' journey over the course of 18 months. Leamon’s article, “College Mentoring Made Easy,” appears below and is part of a series of articles from fellows about their projects. 

From Our Fellows: College Mentoring Made Easy

By Bill Leamon

Across the United States, 51 percent—more than half—of college students fail to graduate and obtain a degree within six years. If that number isn’t staggering enough, it sounds downright optimistic when you consider incoming first-generation college freshmen who graduate from Cleveland Municipal School District (CMSD) – 85 percent of whom won’t graduate in six years.

With only 15 percent of Cleveland’s low-income, first-generation students who go to college achieving their dream of earning a diploma, the 85 percent who drop out of college will be no more prepared than before to pursue a career. What’s more, most of those who drop out will now have student loan debt, which many will default, damaging their credit history and seriously impeding their ability to get started in life as a working adult.

In my role as a college coach, I visit CMSD high schools every week and give talks to seniors about college success from a professor’s perspective. It is clear from the questions they ask me that many lack “college knowledge” and are not altogether prepared to navigate the complexities of the college experience.

Based on survey results from CMSD’s college-bound seniors, only 15 percent will go off to college with the help of a formal mentor—a caring college graduate committed to the students’ success.

What if 100 percent of these students had someone to guide them through the complexities of the college experience? A U.S. Department of Education study found that students who received mentoring regularly during their freshman year had a 170 percent greater chance of completing their bachelor’s degree than those that did not. Additionally, students who had mentors who helped make the connection between a degree and their career goals are six times as likely to get a degree.

The data shows what I’ve learned in my own experience: Mentors can help with both college and career success.

In my role as a college career coach, I work with many low-income, first-generation college students who often lack the personal and professional network necessary to make the transition from college to career. Mentors can play a big role in helping students secure the internships they need to get their foot in the door of Greater Cleveland’s best organizations and corporations.

Mentoring doesn’t need to be a huge time commitment. Many successful mentoring relationships thrive with only one hour of communication per month. What is most important is having relevant conversations at the right time, and having a mentor who is available as needed to help the mentee identify opportunities and overcome obstacles in real-time.

My project is focused on launching a large-scale, low-cost, technology-enabled, micro-mentoring program. By using MentorCliQ’s easy-to-use software solution, the platform makes high-quality matches, tracks communication, evaluates engagement and captures information on persistence and graduation rates. Participants will be prompted by monthly conversation starters, and mentor and mentee will communicate however they prefer—by text, email, phone or video chat—supplemented by the occasional in-person meeting.

My goal is to make college mentoring easy and increase college graduation rates as a result. I’m looking forward to the paths this project will lead me down, and I hope you’ll follow along through the pilot phase in 2018 and full program launch in 2019.

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From its Cleveland headquarters, the Sisters of Charity Health System provides oversight, leadership and strategic direction to more than 20 organizations responding to community needs in Canton and Cleveland, Ohio, and South Carolina.

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