Youth Programs

WITS College Essay Mentoring Project at Reed College

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by Mel Wells

When three school buses pulled onto Reed College campus on a recent Monday, the students who disembarked into the rainy afternoon were not the typical “Reedies.” In fact, several of them had never been on a college campus before, and neither had some of their parents. These were juniors and seniors from Franklin, Madison, and Roosevelt High Schools, all here to meet one-on-one with volunteer mentors and work on their college and scholarship applications.

In Kaul Auditorium, students grabbed slices of hot pizza and made their way to a seat at one of the thirty tables. Awaiting each student was a mentor from the community–professionals who use writing every day in their careers as marketers, editors, writers, lawyers, educators, and even a vintner–who had been trained to help these students succeed.

Ms. Susie Bartley from Franklin High School welcomed the group of 140 mentors and students, plus the teachers who had worked extra to prepare these students, arrange the busses, and make sure everyone had field-trip permission slips signed and turned in. (Thank you, teachers!) Ms. Bartley, who recently won an NEA Award for her work to reduce inequities within education, gave a presentation on how students could best work with their mentors. Then everyone got down to work.

A quick walk through the buzzing room made the diversity of students’ experiences, aspirations, cultures, and skills apparent, but the common element was each teenager’s reaction to having the undivided attention of their mentor. While using paper printouts, laptops, iPads, and even cell phones to view versions of essays and drafts, each mentor listened to their student and met their needs, from brainstorming essay ideas to line editing final drafts of essays for Ivy League schools. Caitlin Bergeon, from the Reed College Office of Institutional Diversity, helped facilitate the event, and was also on hand to answer questions about higher education financial aid options.

By the time everyone filed out, the pizza boxes were empty, revisions were in progress, and everyone’s faces were aglow with a sense of accomplishment and connection. While this session was simply one piece of a much larger process for these students’ journey to college, the impact was apparent and inspiring. Thanks so much to all the many people who participated in making this year’s WITS College Essay Mentoring Project such a success!

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