The Mentor U program serves one of Jackson’s most impressionable demographics—sixth grade students.
The program is the brainchild of Mary Anne Poe, associate dean of social work and director for the Center for Just and Caring Communities. More than a year ago, Poe pitched the idea of the mentoring program to Union President Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver as a means to help middle school students explore the possibilities of a college education.
“Colleges have lots of resources to offer to young people as they are thinking about their future,” Poe said.
In turn, Oliver shared the idea of the program with the presidents of Lane College, Tennessee College of Applied Technology, University of Memphis at Lambuth and Jackson State Community College. Each of the presidents fully supported the project, and it soon garnered the endorsement of the Jackson-Madison County School System.
Each college provides students who serve as mentors to 32 sixth grade students from North Parkway Middle School, the pilot school chosen for the program.
Melodie Fitzpatrick, junior social work major, is one of the 10 Union students serving as a mentor in the program.
“Being a mentor is wonderful,” she said. “I really wish I had a college student hanging out with me when I was in the sixth grade.”
Fitzpatrick said an important factor of the mentored students is that they come from diverse backgrounds and have had different struggles than what most Union students are accustomed to.
“Some children haven’t had a loving and supporting environment, but mentors can provide them that for at least a couple hours,” she said. “Most of the kids just want someone to pay attention to them and to be there for them, and we have the opportunity to make a difference in these children’s lives and to show the light of Christ.”
Mentors meet bi-monthly with students after school, and once a month the students will visit each of the five campuses for Campus Day.
Campus Day’s goal is to introduce sixth graders to different programs and majors offered by each of the schools. On Oct. 24, Union was the first to college to host the students for Campus Day, which also served as the official launch of the program.
Union’s Campus Day showcased programming and activities from the social work, engineering and biology departments.
The next Campus Day is scheduled for Nov. 21 at the University of Memphis at Lambuth followed by a visit to the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in January, Lane College in February and Jackson State Community College in March. Poe said the sixth grade students from this year’s program are invited to continue with the program as seventh graders.
“The idea would be to keep them engaged with Mentor U until they get to high school,” Poe said. “Part of the idea is to direct them to resources and opportunities that are in the community.”
Poe said she can envision students staying with Mentor U while they’re in high school and hopes the program can possibly connect them to some of the new initiatives for high school students related to career preparation, dual enrollment, testing preparation and college campus visits.
“We would love them to go to one of the colleges here in Jackson,” she said. “But if they wanted to go to Yale University, we would help them to apply.”