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Alumni Mentoring Program Shifts to Virtual Sessions

We are conducting our last round of Mentor Orientations for the 2020-2021 School Year from January 15 to January 18. If you want to participate as a mentor in this year’s program, sign up in this Google Form ASAP and we will reach out to you about next steps.

There is still time for you to be a mentor in this year's program!

Sign Up by 1/16!

January 2021

COVID-19 brought great change to all facets of our lives. The Alumni Association’s Alumni Mentoring Program was no exception. For the past five years, Mentoring organized its activities via cohorts where the same eight to ten alumni mentors and 16 to 20 student mentees would meet in person to discuss specific topics throughout a semester or school year. All of the Program’s 100 to 150 students would also participate in a series of large workshops focused on different topics.

Eleonora Srugo '04 leading one of Mentoring's last in-person workshops in February 2020

This past March when almost all in-person gatherings were halted for safety, Mentoring’s Program Directors realized that they had to find a way to continue the Program online. “I was definitely apprehensive going into our first virtual session because so much of the core value proposition of the Program depended on the strong ties and engagement of in-person meetings,” said Program Founder, YanJie Hou ’06. “I was pleasantly surprised by the results. During the virtual workshops, many students took advantage of the Group Chat function to ask questions to the speakers during the presentations. And in smaller group settings like cohort meetings, many students actually seemed more comfortable speaking up in the new virtual setting. For some students, it is less intimidating to speak into their computer than to a roomful of people.”

Bill Weiss ’80, a Mentor who leads his own cohort, believed that “virtual mentoring delivers as much value as the corresponding in-person sessions typically do. The show must go on…and the virtual sessions provided some routine and stability to students at a time of great upheaval.” Bill’s last cohort meeting occurred over Zoom in April during the height of NYC’s COVID crisis; the group was able to give a round of applause to their very own Healthcare Hero, Eric Lee ’06, a fellow mentor who is an Emergency Medicine Physician at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn.

At the virtual life skills workshop in April, students asked many questions in the Group Chat on the right as speakers presented on various topics.

Virtual sessions were not only a safe alternative to in-person sessions, they were also more convenient since they didn’t require students to commute to another office location after school and on Saturdays. But even among the many students who praised the convenience and ease of use of Zoom, most still preferred the in-person sessions. In Mentoring’s end-of-year feedback survey, 89% of students polled either had a slight or major preference for the in-person sessions over the virtual sessions. Many students said that it was a lot harder for them to maintain focus during virtual sessions. Some also commented that face-to-face interactions allow for more casual conversations and that it was a lot easier for them to build a connection with their mentors in person than over Zoom. “In my opinion, a big portion of the Alumni Mentoring Program is the physical act of meeting and maintaining a face-to-face relationship with an adult you don’t really know. Watching your body language, growing more comfortable in an office environment, and understanding the intricate social dynamics of the working world is not something that can be accomplished via Zoom,” said mentee Elena Hlamenko ’21.

Nonetheless, Mentoring will start its new semester of virtual programming in early 2021. According to YanJie, “We had one of our largest number of mentee applications for this coming year. And while we recognize that virtual mentoring is not as good as in-person sessions, one of the silver linings of going virtual is that it allows us to expand our mentor pool outside the NYC area for the first time ever. We are really excited to connect our students with alumni mentors all over the country and continue our mission of helping current Stuyvesant students develop important life skills that they will use for the rest of their lives.”

We had one of our largest number of mentee applications for this coming year... And one of the silver linings of going virtual is that it allows us to expand our mentor pool outside the NYC area for the first time ever. We are really excited to connect our students with alumni mentors all over the country and continue our mission of helping current Stuyvesant students develop important life skills.

“I really had a great time being in the Program and meeting so many new people,” said Pamela Yang ’21, one of last year’s mentees. “Before this program…I didn’t know the difference between the Common App and the Coalition App [two common college applications] and I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do in the future. This program helped me so much. Now, I have a resume that I am proud to show other people. I have a draft of an essay for my Common App. I am more confident in myself. This program allowed me to meet my mentor Maggie, my Student Leader Vincent, and my cohort’s Mentor Leader, Sam. I really am thankful for this wonderful experience…and I would be happy to join the program again this year.” Pamela is participating in this year’s program as a Student Leader who plays a crucial, behind-the-scene role of onboarding mentors and mentees for each program semester. Pamela will also be leading her own cohort of mentors and mentees with an alumni Mentor Leader once cohort sessions start.

You can read our other features on Mentoring here.