Mentoring can be traced back to ancient Greece as a practice of instructing youth on the importance of education and personal values. Socrates mentored, Plato, who mentored Aristotle, who mentored Alexander the Great, the most famous mentor-mentee relationship in history.
In academia, mentoring has been a way for the experienced to guide the less experienced, and to improve student retention and graduation rates, as well as enrich the college experience. In 2002, after recognizing the gap between underrepresented and non-underrepresented students, a group of UNM graduate students established the Project for New Mexico Graduates of Color (PNMGC).
For more than 10 years, PNMGC has striven to increase the retention of students of color by providing academic, social, cultural and emotional support, with the ultimate goal of building a more diverse population within the UNM graduate and professional programs. But while the organization began with a focus on peer mentoring students of color, PNMGC now has a broader vision.
“We reach out to graduates, undergraduates, faculty and the larger community to facilitate student needs during their time at UNM,” said Stephanie Sanchez, lead project assistant for PNMGC. “We welcome international students, the LGBTQ community and those who feel underrepresented in their fields,” Sanchez said.
Felipe Amaral is an international graduate student from Brazil. He acquired a Master of Arts in Spanish and Portuguese from UNM, and continues to pursue his graduate studies in the Department of Organizational Learning and Instructional Technology.
“Getting involved with PNMGC opened my eyes to all the resources and advocacy that were available to me at UNM,” Amaral said. “I didn’t have a mentor myself, but the program helped me so much, that serving as a mentor is now my way to pay it forward, by seeing to it that other students don’t have to go through the same challenges that I did initially due to a lack of knowledge and support.”
To date, Amaral has mentored five students. “My first mentee was such a positive experience I knew I wanted to continue doing it,” he said. “His name was Scott and we hit it off right away, probably because we shared important things in common, like our ancestry. He was born and raised in the United States, but his grandparents were from Brazil, where I am from. I helped him prepare for applying to graduate school. We remain friends to this day.”
Amaral added that student-to-student mentoring is important because things often sound different when coming from a peer. “You’re talking to someone who has been through the same or similar issues that you have or that might be just ahead. Unlike the relationship with an academic advisor, there is no hierarchy, which allows the mentor relationship to be mutually beneficial.”
Mentors can take on the role of confidante, advisor, teacher, role model, guide, coach or friend. It is simply another way of enabling student success, by offering support and guidance within an academic setting.
Sanchez said, “We provide a space for students to engage in the multi-cultural environment that is UNM. We recognize that social and cultural enrichment can help promote academic success for diverse communities.”
PNMGC is a student initiative under Graduate Studies and is funded by the Student Fees Review Board. PNMGC is governed by a student comprised steering committee and employs project assistants who carry out the mission of the program.
If you are interested in becoming a mentor or mentee, visit PNMGC.