Mentoring Case Studies

Mentoring students often provide both the greatest challenges and the greatest joys. We work with mentoring students over a rather extended period of time, working toward a set of sizeable goals that hopefully open the door to possibilities and opportunities once thought foreclosed. Through forming a long-term relationship predicated on trust and honesty, our mentoring students find an ally, a sounding board, a friend, a reality check, an instructor and a guide. As you read about the diverse scenarios for mentoring, you will find that above all the program has to do with faith – in the self, in the future, and in frayed relationships with family members and friends.


All You Need Is Pride

Mitchell came from a difficult home; his parents’ divorce did not settle the situation, but only created more problems. He found himself withdrawing from regular activities and rebelling against authority, particularly school. Mitchell ended up dropping out of high school, later earning a GED while he worked as a laborer. A relative who had her children work with us convinced Mitchell to meet with us and discuss his situation. We saw the great amount of pain in Mitchell’s face, but also underneath the bad boy image and poor work ethic a real ambition to succeed. We talked about career options and did an educational assessment of abilities. After several discussions, we agreed on a plan that would take Mitchell through junior college and give him a chance to develop the skills left hanging years earlier in high school. Learning to read in a critical manner, to write in a more sophisticated fashion, to think analytically – all these challenges took time. But Mitchell had one area we could use for motivation – pride. Mitchell simply did not like the idea of being told he could not do something. He was a competitive athlete who hated losing, and we channeled that sense of pride and passion into the academics. Once he aced a math class, his worst subject, he became a changed, more mature person. He saw he could reach the top of the mountain. He no longer feared climbing. Mitchell began to see career ambitions related to his love of sports and interest in science. Currently, Mitchell is pursuing a graduate program in his career field of physical therapy, on a career path not even he would have imagined in those difficult days in high school.


Smart Enough to Get Help

Michelle wanted very much to be a doctor. Or a lawyer. Or both. She had a great deal of ambition, she loved the luxury of privilege, and she did not shy away from hard work, though she had to be pushed a bit to find that work ethic. Michelle admits to setting her sights higher than her abilities at times, and her desire to attend one of the finest medical schools in the country would be her greatest challenge. She had worked hard enough in college to secure quality grades. We worked on her MCAT testing to be sure she hit the requisite level for the highly selective pool. But in an arena where so many have higher grades and test scores, where acceptance rates are in the low single digits, Michelle needed a coach, a guide – and she was smart enough to seek our help. We worked on developing a marketing plan, with Michelle as the product and admission the goal. Her essays became marathons in thinking, writing, editing, rewriting, revising again until many weeks later the perfect set of essays had been completed. She also had an interest in the legal issues impacting medicine, so we explored a joint MD/JD program. We worked very hard on readying for the LSAT, a feat more difficult than the MCAT for Michelle. But we hit our mark and we set out on the essays again. After a tense waiting period, Michelle got that magic acceptance letter, and she is currently in an MD/JD program in the Ivy League, her dream fulfilled through hard work and the wisdom to know when to seek outside help.


Welcome to the Business World

Steven had always had a hard road in school, in large part a result of some significant learning problems. Like many students with these diagnoses, Steven wanted to avoid the label of “different” and “accommodations” – even if those tracks would get him the necessary help to level the playing field. Consequently, Steven did not have the opportunities available to him for college he otherwise might have if he had less sensitivity about his learning difficulties. When we met Steven, he was in his junior year of college and his parents hoped he could pursue a masters program in a business or management related field. We talked about the realities – his GPA, the necessary score he would need on the GMAT, the requirements of graduate schools of various levels of selectivity. Steven wanted a better business school, but he shied away from any accommodations that would help us level that testing playing field. He chose instead to work very hard over several months to prepare for the different skill sections on the test. We simulated computer-adaptive testing and covered a great deal of new concepts in math and logical reasoning. Steven lacked a strong sense of self or direction when we met; by the time we finished, he proved to himself he could meet a serious life goal. His GMAT score was satisfactory but underrepresented his ability because of his learning issues and the opting out of accommodations. Steven saw this and decided to retake the test with extra time, and raised his score to reflect his ability. Making this leap may have been the biggest feat of all, as it helped him move away from any feelings of shame or resentment about his disability and to see he simply processed information differently, but with a few adjustments he could do what his peers could do, if not better. We researched many different graduate programs, completed applications, tailored essays to market his unique life story, and ultimately received acceptances to several programs of great fit. Steven went on to graduate school with a new and confident sense of self, on a path to career success. Best of all, Steven took a hard look in the mirror and began embracing the man he saw as the man he could actually become. He learned that reality wins over denial or self-delusion, and that perseverance and a good plan make great personal and business sense.


The Precocious Child

We usually work with students for two or three years, but six year journeys are not uncommon. Cheri met with us when she was in sixth grade, new to St. Louis and struggling somewhat in school. Cheri had very high IQ scores and some minor processing issues. A precocious child, Cheri seemed hampered not by her ability but her complete lack of confidence. Labeled as very bright puts a great deal of expectations on a child, particularly where, as here, the label exaggerates the intellect. Cheri was above average, but she would need to work very hard in high school to make “A” grades. Cheri also seemed to enjoy talking over studying and had no organizational system or plan. We helped Cheri navigate between the competing beliefs on her skill levels by focusing less on expectations and more on daily methodology – how to structure homework time, how to focus on the task, how to analyze information in a way that would “stick” in her brain. As Cheri moved through high school, she made solid improvements in some areas, but lagged in others, the result not of lack of ability but lack of work ethic and follow through in the plan. Like the old adage, “you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink,” we can pave the way to progress in gilded stones, but the student still has to walk the walk. Cheri often proved so all-over-the-map in terms of focus and commitment that she would take three steps forward, two steps back. Cheri did well, but far underperformed in terms of mutual expectations, and Cheri will be the first to admit it happened because she chose not to stay on track and pursued other interests. But the Cheri we saw as she went off to college (a very competitive one in fact) was a more mature and self-aware young woman more comfortable in her own skin. She ended up transferring to a different college, another smart choice in her own personal development. Growing into our abilities amidst a flurry of expectations can prove quite challenging, but if we find our path in the process, the road ahead becomes clear so that we find that path when we are in fact ready. Precocious children can be late bloomers – Cheri is a perfect example of that reality, now in full bloom and grateful for the journey.