High school graduation rates are abysmally low in low-income areas around the country, with crippling effects on the national economy. For those who do graduate from high school, college matriculation rates are also low and, for those who do enter college, retention past the first year is difficult. iMentor, which was founded in 1999, seeks to address this problem and, for low-income areas, increase high school graduation and college enrollment and matriculation. They do this through a unique mentorship model that incorporates both personal contact and technology by pairing students with adults in their community who have graduated from college.
While the mentorship model is not new, iMentor has implemented changes to make their program adaptable to the needs of both mentor and mentee. By changing the primary meeting venue from in-person to online (pairs email once per week, in addition to less frequent face-to-face meetings), they hope to appeal to busy working professionals who might otherwise avoid a mentorship program. This online platform also provides structure to these relationships, which in comparable programs are up to the mentors to dictate, in order to create a more uniform and replicable program. iMentor’s proprietary curriculum software facilitates the program meetings by having pairs participate in skill-building and college-prep exercises.
In addition, relationships facilitated by iMentor last longer — three to four years, depending on the program — than those of similar programs. Longer relationships allow for both more extensive programming and a deeper level of personal connection between mentor and mentee. The impact of this is clear: 85% of mentees in the entire program say that they can trust their mentor. Mentors are also able to provide their mentees with career advice, helping them envision their lives more holistically and incentivizing college.
iMentor’s curriculum software also forms the core of a secondary venture: a program called iMentor Interactive. In this program, iMentor partners with organizations around the country who wish to implement programs similar to iMentor’s NYC root organization. In addition to providing access to the curriculum software, iMentor consults with the partner organization to adapt the program to the specific needs of a new city. This platform proves that iMentor’s model is replicable and scalable across the country.
iMentor Interactive allows iMentor to scale up its mission and, ultimately, its impact. By spreading the program around the country (to 13 cities in 10 states, at this point), they hope to initiate a nationwide change in the way that students in underserved neighborhoods are prepped for college and beyond.
It is clear that this model works. Currently, in New York City there are 3,000 mentor-mentee pairs through the iMentor program. In 2012, 86% of high school seniors involved in iMentor graduated from high school and 69% enrolled in college. In addition to the iMentor program in New York City, iMentor helps match mentor-mentee pairs throughout the country, through their iMentor Interactive software and consulting services. Through this extension of their program, there are 2,700 mentor-mentee pairs.
We were fascinated to learn about iMentor’s work, and are confident that their brand of social change is both effective and replicable. iMentor’s real strength is in utilizing the latest technology to bring a dated mentoring model into the 21st century, and this core of technology should help them continue to drive change going forward.