As mentors, we will all run into our share of challenges. While each scholar and mentor is unique, the challenges we deal with have many elements of commonality. More simply, almost every problem we face will have been faced by a mentor before us. The Mentor Resource Center takes the collective wisdom of experienced mentors on relevant issues and features them below.
Our vision is that in mentor newsletters we will solicit thoughts from you, the mentor community, about situations you have run into and methods that did or did not work in addressing them. We hope it will provide benefits to the mentor community.
Anyone with anecdotes about interactions with their Scholars is encouraged to submit them to Craig Spitzer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please indicate the college year of your Scholar. To respect privacy, please omit mention of your Scholar’s name. We look forward to hearing about your challenges, your successes and your setbacks. Your stories help us all be better mentors.
(Please click on an area of interest below)
- 1st Year Scholar For students attending a local school, one option for a “contact” is to visit the campus and walk the upcoming schedule. We were fortunate that the day my scholar and I were at SF State, almost every building was open and we could go find the actual classroom.
- 1st Year Scholar New mentors should request the scholar’s EBCF application and essay if they have not seen it. (I never saw my scholar’s, so I didn’t know she and her sister were undocumented.)
- My scholar experienced difficulty getting her paperwork through. She is a 1st year student and there are a lot of forms to fill out, companies to contact, etc. I checked in as much as I could without trying to nag her. She is still, unfortunately, dealing with the bureaucratic things that go with starting college. I do feel, though, that she is getting a handle on it and I help her when she is confused or has questions.
- My scholar has asked about many of the new terms and titles at college – What is a TA? What are TA’s qualifications? What is a grad student? We need to realize our Scholars are not familiar with much of the language and roles of college and help them get comfortable with this new environment.
Positives and Successes
- 1st Year Scholar [My scholar] successfully finished his first quarter at UC Davis. The reason I say that it was a success is not because of his grades, but because of the mental state that he has acquired having completed his first quarter.
- 1st Year Scholar. I don’t feel like I have been that helpful, as my student is self-motivated and seeks out resources to assist herself. I am lucky to have a student who is so on top of it. During the first semester she did receive a poor grade and I encouraged her to speak to the professor to see if she could improve that grade. During the second semester, she had difficulty with another course, but made it into a pass/fail class so she wouldn’t ruin her GPA. I think the first year was a life-expanding experience and I saw a great deal of maturity in the process.
- 1st Year Scholar. Fortunately, everything went well this past year. He did well in school, joined a fraternity, kept in touch, and continued his schooling over the summer. The only hiccup was a few months ago he asked me if I had any connections for internships in his field. To my disappointment, I couldn’t help him with connections, but I advised him to connect with other resources: his college resource center, the EBCF, and his fraternity brothers who might be in similar fields. He did a good job in following up with these.
- 2nd Year Scholar. My scholar was unable to complete finals in her 2nd year due to her father’s death. She has since bounced back and will graduate June 2013. I consistently told my scholar that she would be successful and she is!
- 2nd Year Scholar. Last Fall was very challenging. Academically, he struggled with a math class, while at home he struggled with his parents’ separation. We spoke openly about both situations. I told him to focus on his studies and to ask for help when needed. He did not pass that class, nor did his parents get back together, but my scholar did not give up. He passed all of his classes the next semester and has become an essential support for his family. I can’t take credit for my scholar’s responses. His maturity and perseverance continue to amaze me. I’m just proud to be a part of his life. He is planning on retaking that math class this year and I’m confident he will pass.
- 4th Year Scholar. My scholar was entering her senior year without clear direction of what to do after graduation, which was quickly approaching. She was interested in primary education, business, and law, but could not figure out what would be a next step: graduate or law school. As an undergraduate, she had opportunities to mentor and tutor younger students. The ‘Teach for America’ program seemed to be the perfect opportunity for her. We discussed this and she applied; I was happy to write a letter of recommendation. She graduated in Spring, 2013; completing her degree in four years. She entered the training program for Teach for America in July, 2013 and will be working in the Oakland public schools in the fall, 2013.
- 3rd Year Scholar. My scholar was having a challenge finding an internship. I was able to connect him and introduce him to a friend with whom I attended school, who is in my Scholar’s field. This made me feel great and reaffirmed that this program works.
- 1st Year Scholar [My scholar’s writing] require[s] editing. To that end I often helped in the re-writing process, emphasizing that writing means re-writing and helping hone his writing to increase clarity and minimize grammatical errors.
- 1st Year Scholar. My scholar’s first language is not English. He was concerned about passing the UC writing test. We agreed that he would write me with biweekly updates about college life and I would respond both with thoughts about things in general, but also with corrections and thoughts on how the email could have been better written. It became a game for us and he passed his writing test.
- 1st Year Scholar. English is my Scholar’s second language. Toward the end of her first semester, she told me that her grades on her English class assignments were not good and her professor asked her to re-write some essays. The weekend before they were due, she asked if I could review her re-writes. We met and there was more work to be done than I had the time to help with. It was difficult to set boundaries, because she was quite stressed. I realized that I could not save her from the struggle she had to go through. The only thing I could tell her was that with practice it will get better and that she needed to allocate more time for writing and editing. This was hard to hear the night before assignments were due, but I am glad she included me in the process. I hope to continue to encourage her to practice to become a better writer.
- My Scholar. asked me for help to edit her term papers and essays. Since I am a teacher, she felt comfortable asking me. I enjoyed reading her writing and learning more about her ideas and what she was learning in college.
- 1st Year Scholar. My Scholar was placed on academic probation in his second semester. We looked at the school’s policies about how to get off probation and had conversations about what affected his grades and how to improve them. Based on these conversations, he came up with ideas. One was to slow down when test-taking, as he was not reading test questions carefully. Another idea regarded his living situation. He wanted to move off-campus for financial and other reasons, but he had already paid for board for the spring semester. I wrote him a letter of support, asking the college to return his room and board money for spring and they approved our request. He now lives off-campus with a friend. His grades improved last semester, and if his next semester grades keep up, he will be removed from academic probation.
- 1st Year Scholar. My Scholar faced several challenges his freshman year. First, he failed a course outside of his major, placing him on academic probation. He had to make up the credits and learned the lesson that he has to take all his courses seriously. He also learned how to better budget his time.
- 1st Year Scholar. My Scholar and I faced an academic challenge as she has been put on academic probation for failing several classes. Right now, with my support, she is figuring out if going back to her four-year university is the right option for her, or whether transferring to a community college may be a better option.
- 1st Year Scholar. The Scholar is very passionate about his chosen major. Based on his previous work and dedication, I fully support him in pursuing his chosen, difficult major. Unfortunately, his first year was difficult academically – he received low grades in key courses. I believe that the first year of college is always hard, but in some ways, this was especially so. I am encouraging him to have more contact with each of his professors and to initiate more one-on-one office hours meetings. He has been trying. I observe that the classes in which he engages more, he does better. Because of this, I want to encourage him to engage with more of his classes
- 2nd Year Scholar. The Scholar experienced major issues spring semester sophomore year. He failed a few classes – not for lack of trying, but due to a choice (against lots of advice) to take 18 units. He was overworked, fell behind, and couldn’t dig himself out. The issue is being resolved through meetings with academic counselors and lots of hard work. He is back on track, now, and our steady communication has been helpful to him in working through this challenge.
- 3rd Year Scholar. The pressure of the fast-paced quarter system got to my scholar this year, as he dropped out for a quarter, but then could not find an internship in his field. It has been a challenge for me to keep encouraging him without seeming disappointed.
Choice of Major
- 2nd Year Scholar. It was not clear that her stated major was actually something she wants. Additionally, she failed her first core class in the chosen major. I listened to her to discern the discrepancy in goals vs. desires as opposed to being about aptitude or time management. EBCF has set her up with a mentoring organization in her field. I also found a friend who has experience in 3-4 different roles in my scholar’s field of interest. Her issue is still unresolved, but at least 6 of us are engaged in the process.
- 3rd Year Scholar. My Scholar has been experiencing doubt about majoring in Business. She doesn’t really like her business classes, but has really been enjoying her art and design classes. She wants to switch majors to Industrial Design. I have tried to be supportive and encouraging as she learns what she needs to do to make this happen. I have also shared with her the contact information of a friend who works in industrial design. My Scholar has met with the Industrial Design department chair, developed her portfolio, and taken some prerequisite classes. It is not yet clear whether she will be admitted to the program this fall.
- 3rd Year Scholar. I had a student [who] was a Biochemistry major. His interest in the subject was “passing” at best. He took the classes necessary for his major, but struggled with all of them. At the point of almost being dismissed, he asked me what he should do. I found that the pressure of pursuing this major came not from within, but from his parents. [The Scholar] felt that since he was going to school on their dime, he had to pursue the major they expected. This feeling of obligation put him in danger of failing. In our talk, he realized that he enjoyed and performed well in English and History courses. I never told him WHAT to do, but let him discover what he liked and was good at on his own. I believe this self-discovery led [him] to muster the courage to tell his parents that he wanted to change direction. [He] had no idea that his parents only wanted him to like what he studied. Though they wanted him to study biochemistry, they were happy to see him happy. Two quarters later, he changed his major to History. Now [he] is in his fifth year, finishing his last two quarters. He thanks me for helping him realize that success is not a destination with just one path, but many.
- 1st Year Scholar. An issue that my Scholar faced this past year was taking too many classes during his freshman year. He took five classes in his second semester. As a result, his grades suffered. I first listed to his self-evaluation and what he thought he could have done differently. In the end, I pointed out that he had not failed, but instead, he learned a valuable lesson in time management and planning.
- 2nd Year Scholar. This past year he has struggled with academics. He is thinking of changing his major. We met multiple times to talk about options. He is currently taking summer school. At one point he was going to take 3 classes, but I convinced him to take one class and do well in it. He is going to make up his major classes during the Fall semester. I hope he does well. If not, I will be there to talk to him about switching majors.
- 2nd Year Scholar. My scholar faced an issue recently with plagiarism. I wasn’t aware of this until our end-of-semester recap conversation. She was hesitant to discuss this with me. I listened and asked questions to understand her perspective and attempted to provide advice and encouragement for the future. She admitted that she plagiarized the paper and explained it was primarily due to her course load and lack of attention to the paper. I have often offered her tutoring and writing assistance, but she has not pursued my assistance. Unfortunately, she will have to take this class again.
- 1st Year Scholar [My scholar was] having some trouble in his sociology class, and me informing him to visit his professor and TA for office hours has helped [him] know not only when to reach out for assistance, but HOW to as well.
- 1st Year Scholar – At the end of the semester [Scholar] told me she had “bombed” her final in chemistry. Her concern was that she would lose her scholarship. We developed a plan for her to talk to the professor and the scholarship committee to find out if she could get an incomplete in the class, instead of failing. She worked it out with the scholarship committee that if she got an incomplete, she could retake the chemistry class, at her own expense, and keep her scholarship. Happily, the Scholar got a C in the class and didn’t fail as she had feared. When I asked my Scholar if she was unhappy that she had talked to the scholarship committee before finding out she had passed, she said “No,” that it was good to have a back-up plan. The planning we had done together was valued and beneficial.
- 2nd Year Scholar. My scholar has been challenged by two classes, Psychology and Calculus. My scholar uses available on-campus resources to help her succeed. We established meeting with her professor, taking advantage of office hours, using a tutor, and participating in study group sessions as methods to help her succeed. For Calculus, we employed a two-step approach. The first was to drop the class from the second semester of the sophomore year and to re-enroll this summer. The second was to introduce my scholar to a friend who is great with math. They exchanged emails and he told my scholar about a website that breaks down mathematical concepts into easy-to-understand steps. The jury is still out on how successful she will be in the class. Nonetheless, she now has an additional resource available for help with math.
- 1st Year Scholar – [Scholar] was having trouble getting studying done for tests. Discussion led to change in her study habits to get up early to study instead of staying up late. That relate[d] to a conversation we had about the importance of sleep. Scholar thought that she didn’t have enough time to study if she didn’t stay up until the wee hours of the morning. I offered that cognitive ability was improved by a good nights sleep. My advice seems to have made its mark as reflected in Scholar’s goals for the upcoming semesters to get up early to study instead of staying up late.
- 1st Year Scholar. My scholar was having trouble academically. I texted her about solutions, including meeting with a university counselor, who recommended a course of action that my scholar was comfortable implementing. I suggested phone calls for accountability with me. Though she expressed interest, she never followed through on this offer. One thing after another interfered with her ability to keep appointments. I texted to ask how she had done after finals and she said OK. She has done well enough that her scholarships have not been threatened. She said she was off boys and would focus more on ongoing studying, instead of trying to cram at the end.
- 1st year Scholar. My scholar was under stress after declining student loans and later realizing that she needed more money than she budgeted for. I invited her over for dinner and we sat down afterwards with a budget worksheet. She tallied up her expenses and looked at her sources of income. I think this helped her decide to accept a loan for the coming term. The evening was also a nice bonding experience.
- 3rd year Scholar. My scholar is undocumented, not eligible for many sources of financial aid. She began her first year at a private, high cost college. Her budget was very tight, paid for by the college and a number of small scholarships, not all of which continued into the following years. Toward the end of the first year, I became concerned she would not have enough funds to continue. We discussed options and settled on her transferring to the community college for her sophomore year, then applying to a UC or CSU for junior and senior years. She took a one year leave from EBCF funding. I accompanied her to counseling sessions at the schools, to make sure that she took the pre-requisite coursework for transfer. She has completed her Junior year and is poised to graduate, with high grades, after four years of college. I am very proud of her.
- 1st Year Scholar. The Scholar found himself in financial arrears in the second quarter of his freshman year. Too proud to receive a loan from a financial institution, his dad ultimately received a loan from his job. This is an ongoing challenge.
- 3rd year Scholar. My scholar was under considerable financial stress. He had a full course load and a part time job. After some research, we found that moving off campus was his best way to save. He was paying $1500/month in room and board on campus and now lives off campus for less than half of that.
- 4th Year Scholar. The Scholar had a financial shortfall in his final semester of college. All his previous sources of aid (Sallie Mae, Pell Grant, etc.) were exhausted. He went after additional funding, not from his university, but from the college within the university (in this case, the College of Engineering). He was successful there and received the funds necessary to graduate.
- The scholar got scammed by someone who represented themselves as being from a polling organization. She gave out her bank account information and lost a lot of money. We need to make sure Scholars know the basics about maintaining the security of their financial accounts.
Living Situation Challenges
- 1st Year Scholar – [Problem with] dorm dynamics: I had my scholar contact her RA and Community Director to mediate issues. More than facilitating a resolution, I offered support and suggestions to write letters to student housing to try and find alternative living situation.
- 1st Year Scholar. My scholar had a time management issue. He was talking about how tired he always was, but it was not necessarily from studying. I let him know that staying up late is common, yet he needs to manage his time well. Taking time and studying at the library, getting AT LEAST 6 hours of sleep, and even working out could help. Since then, he has done at least two out of those three things and noticed a difference.
- 1st Year Scholar. Scholar said she wanted to get her license to drive this summer to make it easier to get a job. But as of last check-in a week or two ago, she never found the time to study for the test, since she got a summer job at a park near her home. When I offered to take her out driving to satisfy supervised driving hours, she said I lived too far away and her uncle was going to take her out for driving lessons instead.
- 1st Year Scholar. She was debating between on campus or off campus housing. I helped my scholar through this by discussing both options with her in full, making a pro/con list that took into account amount of living space, closeness to campus resources and classes, cooking vs. having access to dining halls, and of course, finances. Overall, what was most helpful was being there to plan what both options would look like and letting her express her concerns.
- 1st Year Scholar – Another challenge for [my scholar] was the pressure that he felt to succeed. Not from any external sources, but from himself. [He] let me know that he utilized the school’s counseling services as he felt overwhelmed by the pressure he feels he imposed on himself. After I spoke with him on making sure that he is working, studying and performing from a place of eustress, and not DISTRESS. I let him know that it is a good thing that he reached out. Many new college students turn to less productive means of coping with their new environment and responsibilities.
- 1st Year Scholar – My mentee has had a lot to deal with in his first semester — social anxiety and shyness, the rejection of his parents, feeling alone. I check in with him regularly and we talk about everything. I visited him for his birthday and he came to spend Thanksgiving with my partner and myself. Occasionally I’ll send him a card in the mail to let him know I’m thinking about him.
- 2nd Year Scholar A vital part of my relationship with my scholar is keeping the focus on what she can control and change. We work to keep our focus on her school work and short term goals. If she comes to my house, it is to study and show me her study plan rather than to escape a hostile family situation or a relationship crisis. When we go out, it is to bring her to school or the library. This is not always easy. It is difficult for me to hear she has no money to take BART, is hungry and not allowed food at home, or is in physical danger. With the help of EBCF staff, we keep the focus on school and her steps towards her goals.
- 2nd Year Scholar Compatibility issues with roommate: We talked; I listened. She endured and resolved the problem. I helped by making suggestions and being supportive to the choices she made to resolve the problem.
- I’m working with a scholar who broke up with her long-time boyfriend, which destabilized her housing situation. Fortunately, it was late in the spring and she was able to patch things together until the end of the term. If it had happened earlier in the school year, I can imagine it would have been a very difficult problem to manage.
- My Scholar had difficulty living with roommates. I helped her recognize the problem and helped her get a single room this year.
Challenges at Home
- 2nd Year Scholar His brother was wrongly accused of a crime … at the same time his sister experienced a miscarriage … He was considering dropping out of school, but I was part of the network of support to make sure he stayed the course. He understood that the best way to support his family is to pursue his education.
- 2nd Year Scholar – My scholar was under a lot of pressure at the end of her first year. Her brother got married and moved, with his new family, into their home. Her financial aid had not arrived yet. Her parents were not supportive of her going to college. She decided to quit school. I called Diane at the EBCF office and, together, we talked with my scholar and convinced her to enroll for one more semester. During the current semester, many of her problems have been resolved and she continues to be successful at college.
Mentor Scholar Communication
- 1st Year Scholar She was struggling to pass a very hard science class this past year. She went into the course with trepidation, knowing her academic background in high school did not prepare her for such a difficult course. At mid-term, she was failing. I checked in with her regularly by email to gauge her progress and was frustrated that she did not respond. When we met in the summer and I learned that not only had she passed the course but she was hired by the TA to help teach the same course in summer school! The reason she had not responded to my emails is that she was busy in study groups and going to extra office hours to get the help she needed. The moral: don’t always assume the worst. Sometimes Scholars need to retreat into themselves to focus on the task at hand.
- 3rd Year Scholar When my Scholar and I were matched, she had already finished two years of college and had a previous Mentor who had not worked out with her. It was unclear exactly what their problems were, but they did have trouble getting together. For some months, my Scholar cancelled every single date I made with her. Then, when we rescheduled, she was always late. I know she was experiencing depression. I decided the best approach was to be relaxed, completely uncritical about the cancellations, and supportive. Finally, one day she arrived – on time – for the date we had set to meet. We had a pleasant, upbeat talk and she hugged me goodbye. This was a turning point. I can’t say the problem is solved, but there is a fondness between us and having a supportive, encouraging person is a good thing for a young person. I’m just happy we are in touch and I am helping her meet her EBCF requirements.
- 1st Year Scholar. I have had a difficult time communicating with my scholar. My first effort was through email. He ignored my email and he finally contacted me through text, his preferred method of communication. He said he had not received my email. Now we are texting, but there is still little communication. Experienced mentors tell me that this it the way it is for some Scholars. I am committed to building a relationship with him, and resigned to being patient and encouraging what texting there is, as communication is essential to our relationship.
- During my first year as a Mentor, I was concerned that my Scholar and I weren’t in contact very often, although we were in contact once a month. During an EBCF event, I reached out to more experienced Mentors, who assured me that my amount of contact was not unusual and that I was not alone in this situation. That relieved a lot of stress.
- I found the Scholar to be very quiet and introverted. He always just responds with “Yes” or “No” short answers. I found that that by revealing a vulnerability – talking about a recent injury I had – I got him to open up more.
- My Scholar is great. The only challenge I have is that he doesn’t need me much. He has tons of support with friends and a college mentor program. Sometimes, I feel that I am just nagging him to meet so he can get his scholarship money. I reconcile this knowing I genuinely care about him and that, if he ever needs me, I’ll be there.
Social/Cultural Life issues
Undocumented Student Resources