Career Mentoring


We began our career mentoring program as a way to deal with motivational problems interfering with the academic achievement of teens. Relevance was the missing ingredient in their school work for many of them. If they saw no purpose to what they were studying, it was difficult to stay motivated to work hard at it—even if their aptitudes and skill levels presented no problems.
Emily and Carrie the Vet
Emily on a job
shadowing visit with
Carrie the Veterinarian
When are we ever going to use this stuff? is a common question, one with a huge impact on how enthusiastically young people will throw themselves into their studies. It can be dealt with partially by teachers, who can include more applied problems and project-based instruction. But it can also be approached by helping students develop their own career goals. A teen who has focused on designing space habitats for NASA as a career goal, for example, will be motivated to take and to succeed at the required math and science courses.

Our solicitation of career exploration resources (tours, presentations, and job shadowing) and sponsorship of career clubs and fairs were aimed at encouraging career exploration, but we felt something more personal was needed.

High school mentoring coordinator Karyl Shand pioneered self-discovery workshops for teens; the first was a slumber party for girls at Ann Arbor’s teen center, The Neutral Zone. Others were advertised and held at Pioneer High’s Career Center with great help from its director, Joyce Williams.

Emily and puppy at the vet
Emily meets a customer while
visiting an animal hospital
To allow for even more individualized attention, she and Reach Out! sponsor Jeannine LaSovage developed a six-week career mentoring program matching volunteers from the Downtown Ann Arbor Kiwanis Club with teens. The first time, this required a lot of training and support for mentors, especially those who had never before used a computer! After two years, we had a few faithful mentors who took on new teens every year, as well as some brave newcomers. They personified mentoring, often going way beyond the parameters of the program design to provide the guidance and shadowing experiences they thought their teens needed. Kiwanians were also generous with ongoing financial support for this and other programs. We truly became partners with them in serving area youth.
Anna and Gene
Anna and her Kiwanian
career mentor, Gene
Besides working with Pioneer High students, Kiwanians embraced the members of the Builders Club they sponsored at Slauson Middle School. This club, like others, was created both to serve youth through encouraging their growth and maturation, and to serve the greater community through their activities. While service was a terrific way to engender responsibility and a focus on others in these young people, those who had career mentors experienced even more growth toward their adult selves.

They were empowered to think about their futures as actors who will determine their own course. They were given the knowledge required to do realistic career planning. For example, one Builder learned what kind of education is required for her desired career as a veterinarian, how she might become a Vet Technician if that seems too daunting, and
Anna and Gene
Mentor Si, teacher Doris, and Builders
Emily, Bonnie, Marly, and Kiesa
where in the state training could be obtained for both career paths. The Vet with whom she shadowed offered to take her on in a summer job to experience more of the work’s variety.

As adults, we tend to overestimate how much young people know about the specifics of a career: the pay level, the training required, the working conditions, and so forth. It is not enough to dream about a future—they need information to chart a realistic course toward that future!

Want to replicate this program? See The Mentoring Process to find out how!
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Updated 3 Mar 10