Guest Post by Terry Wilson, Service Coordinator at Berea College

Although many students don’t officially drop out of school until high school, the student’s disengagement with their schoolwork can almost always be traced back to an earlier age.  If the problem isn’t addressed prior to attending high school, those students will almost surely be overwhelmed once they enter high school and are very likely to give up and drop out.

To prevent this we must engage these targeted 8th grade students with college student mentors who will provide young people with a positive role model since they have stayed in school and are now fully engaged in college.

Too often, limited resources in some of our schools prevent their students from receiving needed support and encouragement when it comes to preparing for the journey into higher education. Growing up in a low-income rural area sometimes limits the opportunities that are available to students as we push for them to finish high school and encourage them to continue their education by going on to a college or technical school.

Berea College’s GEAR UP Promise Neighborhood program has developed a mentoring pilot program to help some of the 8th grade students. Many of the mentors are are first-generation college students helping students in Owsley, Clay, and Jackson Counties receive navigational help as they sail through the educational waters, often encountering barriers in their pursuit of completing high school and entering college.  Eighth grade students need mentoring, and who better to mentor these students than first-generation college students who have overcome the very same hardships and life challenges that these students are now facing?

Limited resources prevent finding enough local mentors to mentor these students face to face on a bi-weekly basis, so the next best alternative was to connect these students face to face with college students who have successfully avoided the barriers and hardships.  This was accomplished by matching the eighth graders with college students using the technology of Skype.

College students from Harvard University, Wabash College, Hanover College, Ohio University, Eastern Michigan University, and Eastern Kentucky University have volunteered their mentoring services to the region’s eighth graders.  Every other Friday, the college mentors connect face to face with their mentee via Skype.

Not only has the program been an asset to the eighth graders, it has also been rewarding to the college mentors.  Harvard University graduate student Ernesto Umana is one of the mentors in the program.  “Exceeding the low expectations that the educational system had for me was a lonely experience,” Umana said.  “I promised myself that if I succeeded I would help others along the way.”

Tara McMahon, a student from Hanover College, said, “I’ve been introduced to a world of leadership.  My mentee is a hard worker and college is the ideal place for her in the future and thanks to this program, I am able to deliver that message to her.”

“My college mentor has taught me so much and has encouraged me to be the best that I can be,” said Owsley County eighth grader Cassidy.

Eighth grade students need mentoring and college role models to show them the way.  Now, even in the remote areas of our state, through the power of Skype technology we can now bring them face-to-face with a college mentor that cares about their mentee’s future.  The college mentors, through their continued encouragement, are making a difference in their 8th graders’ lives.

We are looking for college students to be mentors. If you are interested, contact me at