The students moved in orderly clusters around the high school cafeteria, an orchestrated rotation that shifted from table to table every seven minutes. Over the course of an hour, the students, in groups as small as two and as large as seven, met with a business professional at every stop.
In the business world, it’s known as “speed networking.” But on this day at Hughes STEM High School, juniors experienced it as “speed mentoring.”
A collaboration among Hughes, the United Way of Greater Cincinnati, Partners for a Competitive Workforce and the University of Cincinnati, the event gave 11th-graders the chance to meet with seasoned business professionals who successfully bridged the gap between vision and career.
“What you are doing today is creating the infrastructure for growth,” Michael Calloway, a public speaker and franchise owner, told the 28 volunteer mentors before the event. “It’s one thing to have a vision and another thing to know what the next step is to take.”
The event began with a presentation for students that focused on persevering in the face of challenges, learning from failure, and researching career and scholarship options. The same themes surfaced throughout the hourlong speed-mentoring event.
As the 87 students moved from table to table, they met with mentors from a variety of fields, ranging from biomedical engineering to education. The mentors shared their life stories to help students understand that there are many paths to achieving a dream, but they all require hard work, persistence and a plan. Some mentors told the students that they knew early on what they wanted to do, others had a winding journey to find the right career. Some were the first in their families to go to college, and others overcame significant challenges to make their dreams reality.
“Our goal was to provide a positive experience for the students, to inspire and provoke their interest about life after high school and college,” said Sarah Ghee, director, Eastern area for United Way of Greater Cincinnati and one of the event’s architects. “We gave all of the students a journal and a pen to use during their sessions, and they were all taking notes in those journals.”
Students asked questions of the mentors, and often the adults asked hard questions of the students.
“What are you doing to prepare yourselves for your career right now?” Rob Richardson, Jr., vice chair on the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees, asked students. “How are you doing in school? Why do you want to go into that field?”
The event ties in with Cincinnati Public Schools’ new My Tomorrow*ed initiative, launched in August 2014 with the goal of having 100 percent of seventh-graders graduate from high school ready to purse their chosen career paths. The goal is supported in part by strengthening real-world connections for students. Speed mentoring gave students exposure to professionals who offered tangible and experience-based tips for college preparation, career exploration, networking and general success.
“Our kids are thirsty for people who have great experiences to share,” Hughes Principal Kathy Wright said. “This event is huge for our students, and we are so appreciative of our volunteers’ time.”
Wright said the idea is to make the event replicable for other CPS schools. “We want every student to have access to these excellent, excellent opportunities,” she said.
Judging from the feedback the event planners received, mentors, too, will be lining up to participate.
“I heard from so many volunteers who said they want to know if we offer this again,” Ghee said. “We are already talking about how we can improve it and even expand it for next year.”
Mentors included members of the United Way Herbert R. Brown Society, the University of Cincinnati African American Alumni Affiliate, the African American Chamber, the University of Cincinnati United Black Doctoral Student Organization and other community members.