April 23, 2007

Mentorship Academy SIUC students help high schoolers plan for college

by Tom Woolf

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Cynthia H. Sims has a message for Southern Illinois' low-income and minority high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors.

"If you think you have until your senior year to start thinking about college, you're not planning," says the assistant professor of workforce education and development, part of the College of Education and Human Services at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

With the help of an internal grant from a program designed to strengthen the University's diversity initiatives, Sims aims to help them plan. Her brand-new, all-volunteer Mentorship Academy pairs SIUC students with area high schoolers to explore careers and prepare the high school students for college.

Media Advisory

Reporters, photographers and camera crews are welcome at the SIUC Mentorship Academy's final workshop series Saturday, April 28. It will begin at 11:15 a.m. in Room 121 of Lawson Hall with a guest speaker and conclude at the Old Main Room in the Student Center with group pictures at 2 p.m., followed by lunch and distribution of certificates. Call Cynthia H. Sims at 618/453-1976 with questions.


The academy, which met for the first time March 10, consists of 30 students from high schools in Carbondale, Carrier Mills, Murphysboro and West Frankfort and 30 SIUC students from six of the University's colleges. Twelve of the 30 high school students had never visited SIUC, and eight previously had not considered going to SIUC.

"Our students share with them their stories about their own preparation — or lack thereof," Sims said with a laugh.

"We hope it makes the high school students think, 'Maybe I need to bring my GPA up, maybe I should do some volunteer work.' Younger students can get started earlier on looking for scholarships or looking for jobs that will pay their way on campus.

"We also want to show them that yes, we can serve you here. There are people from your background who are studying here that you can connect with. We hope the mentors will not only make them feel welcome but will continue the relationship even when the academy is over."

In addition to serving as good examples, the mentors also encourage the younger students to aim high.

"We don't want the kids to say, 'I just want to be an athlete.' when there are so many other things they could do," Sims said.

"They could be managers, college athletic directors, PR people, sports writers."

Although she was disappointed in the number of Carbondale Community High School students participating, the lower-than-expected turnout has led her to step up her outreach efforts in the Carbondale community. Other than that, the academy is working out pretty much as she'd hoped.

"The mentors are having fun — they understand that here they're the experts and the students really value their expertise," Sims said.

And one high school student, who told her he was attending only because his grandma made him go, brought a friend to the next session. He's told Sims how much he liked the workshops and, after hearing a presentation by a finance professor, has become particularly interested in studying business.

"If that one young man is the only one who gets something out of the program, I will still be happy, because he changed — he appreciated the program," she said.