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Screen Shot 2013-08-30 at 9.27.07 AMENTREPRENEURS | 5/02/2013 @ 11:17AM |2,773 views

Mentoring: A Commitment To The Next Generation

Reprinted from FORBES

Ashoka, Contributor

Morgan Stanley CIO Steve Sparkes makes a case for how mentoring can ensure more students graduate high school and succeed in college. (Photo: iMentor)

A college education is key to finding a job and building a successful career. For the 15 million young people living in low-income communities nationwide, however, the path to college-readiness can be a rocky one.

High school students already know it takes a solid academic record to get accepted by a university, but there’s more to it than that. The school must be a good fit for a student’s academic goals; the campus environment must be a supportive and positive one where students thrive; the financing must make sense for today and should not limit future options; and the students themselves have to sharpen their determination and focus so they can succeed at the next level.

With 459 students for every one college or guidance counselor, high schools in the U.S. have limited resources to help students take the necessary steps to prepare for, apply to, and enroll in college. A mentor can be an invaluable resource, providing students with the one-on-one attention, skills and resources needed to have successful high school and college careers that will allow them to be competitive in the workforce. A mentor instills confidence, discipline and motivation into the life of a student, and can provide the knowledge necessary to navigate through complicated admissions processes and college matching.

iMentor builds mentoring relationships that empower students in low-income communities to graduate high school, succeed in college and achieve their ambitions. Its curriculum, which is a combination of both online and in-person mentoring, offers flexibility for busy professionals—ideal for those of us in the business world. To date, iMentor has matched more than 11,000 students nationwide with mentors and partners with 14 organizations across the country.

Morgan Stanley is proud to be iMentor’s longest-standing corporate partner and currently has 123 employees paired with students from low-income communities. In the 2011-12 school year alone, we dedicated more than 3,000 hours of volunteer time to our mentees. Seventy-one percent of these students will be first-generation college students—and 83 percent live below the poverty line. Morgan Stanley mentors have helped their mentees reach major milestones on the way to college success like visiting a college campus for the first time, writing college essays and completing applications. They’ve also shared their own life experiences to help students learn how to navigate challenges in the future, helping them become self-advocates, build support networks and persevere in the face of obstacles.

Over the course of their three- and four-year mentoring relationships, our employees are able to watch as their mentees develop skills and can see in real time the individual impact they are having on students. Across its program, iMentor is getting results. Eighty-six percent of the seniors in iMentor’s program graduated high school last year, and 69 percent enrolled in college—numbers well above national averages for students in low-income communities.

Although you might not expect it, mentoring is a symbiotic relationship where our mentors gather very concrete benefits from their participation. With so many volunteers from Morgan Stanley involved in the program, our employees have an opportunity to work together across business units toward a shared mission. Purpose-driven work through a commitment to a cause has been shown to boost company morale and productivity. Volunteer programs give employees a new platform for networking—based on the collective goal of facilitating positive change and not just advancing one’s career or expanding one’s personal network.

Volunteering also serves as an effective tool in honing leadership skills and enhances the ability to problem-solve and communicate in the workplace. I’ve seen this within our firm when our employees host their mentees at office visits, become advocates for mentoring within our organization, and come together for additional learning and collaboration opportunities among their fellow mentors.

My own engagement in mentoring began in 2012 when, after speaking to high school juniors in the iMentor program about the college-to-career transition, a young man named Zachary went out of his way to introduce himself and his mentor, Eric Zamore, a senior lawyer with a global financial services firm. Zachary shared with me his aspirations to begin a career in aerospace engineering, and I was so encouraged by his motivation and ambition to succeed in the workforce that we created a pilot program to introduce high school interns at Morgan Stanley. Zachary seized the opportunity, rose to the occasion and excelled in his position.

Zachary is just one example of the fact that—given the right opportunities and support—young people can achieve their highest ambitions. I look forward to seeing what’s next for this young man as he starts his freshman year at MIT in the fall, with his mentor standing by to help him make a successful transition.

This year, I am a first-year mentor in the program, matched with an incredibly bright young man, Noel, who is at the start of his high school career at the Academy for Software Engineering in New York City. The iMentor structure quickly broke the ice, and we are getting to know each other through regular email exchanges and in-person meetings. I am confident that our bond will continue to strengthen and grow over the next three years, and I look forward to doing my very best to help him succeed in life. As someone who has enjoyed a long career working with technology, I am grateful to have the opportunity to teach him—and his classmates—about the career paths available in computer science.

I am truly excited about what’s ahead for me and for the ambitious high-schooler I am mentoring. I am extremely pleased to be helping him prepare to make the most of the opportunities that arise and to overcome whatever obstacles may come his way. I look forward to the successes we are going to celebrate.

This post was written by Steve Sparkes, Chief Information Officer, Morgan Stanley, Head of Technology and Information Risk.

Mike O’Brien, who was elected into the Ashoka Fellowship in 2012, joined iMentor in 2003 and currently serves as the organization’s CEO.