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From Mentee to Mentor: How One CIS Alum Helps First-Generation College Students Succeed

By Elizabeth Tuten Jan. 16, 2018

Peter had intended to spend the summer after his junior year playing video games until his sister dragged him to a Communities In Schools summer Bootcamp program. “I didn’t have a focused future or a plan . . . and even if I had, I didn’t have support to make anything happen,” Peter says, looking back on what would prove to be a pivotal summer.  

Despite his initial resistance, Peter realized on the first day that CIS Bootcamp would provide the support he’d been missing. “I was astounded by the level of commitment and the empathy the staff showed,” he says. One of those staff members was CIS site coordinator Ruby Morales, who would remain his mentor through his first year of college. As their relationship progressed, so did Peter’s vision for his future. “She pushed me to do more—I was settling. It opened up a lot of doors I didn’t even know were there,” he remembers.  

Ruby checked in on Peter throughout the next year, making sure his path to college was clear. They worked on his college applications and talked about what he wanted for his future—tasks that had seemed overwhelming and out-of-reach only a few months earlier.  

The summer after his senior year, Peter made sure to attend CIS Bootcamp again. In between camping trips and volunteer projects, he and fellow rising college first-years learned about what would be expected of them in college, how to communicate effectively with professors, and how to navigate the challenging world of higher education—knowledge especially imperative for the first-generation college students. 

Bolstered by all he had learned and by Ruby’s support, Peter felt confident entering his first year at Texas State San Antonio. Ruby was there to give advice on everything from homework to navigating the campus, easing the transition immensely.  

Now a junior, Peter has become the listening ear and the voice of experience for high school seniors and college freshmen at CIS of South Central Texas. No matter how busy his own life becomes, Peter returns to the place where caring adults and a community of support helped him find his own path, hoping to do the same for other students. 

Last year he had two mentees through the CIS Bootcamp program, and this year he has one. They spend time together, talk about challenges and strategies for success, go camping, and volunteer through CIS. Peter specializes in helping his mentees prioritize the many competing demands college students face, something Ruby helped him to learn.  

When one of his mentees struggled to balance work, college, and an increasingly difficult home life, Peter helped him set priorities and boundaries. “I told him that it’s ok to slow down, and that sometimes it’s necessary. I knew he needed to prioritize moving out (sic) of his parents’ home so that he could find time to do homework uninterrupted,” Peter says. Together the pair worked on time management and determined actionable steps towards a better school/work/life balance. “He’s in a much better place now,” Peter is happy to report, “he can relax a little more and just be a college freshman.”  

Sometimes those with the most to bear are the least equipped to manage their burden on their own. For many, a mentor is someone who altered a career path and who gave good advice. But for first-generation college students, having a mentor can mean the difference between success and failure.   

With a mentor, at-risk students are fifty-two percent less likely to skip a day of school, and fifty-five percent more likely to be enrolled in college. Peter is quick to point out that being a mentor has its own benefits: “It’s rewarding to see how much my mentees change and to help them explore the unknown so that they can see their own path forward,” he says.  

January is National Mentor Month. Become a mentor by getting involved with your local CIS affiliate.