Building on their mission to enrich and educate growing minds, Cornell’s Scholars in Our Society and Africa chapter spearheaded a new summer fellowship to connect college students with high school students across the world.
The college mentors worked with students from underprivileged communities to work through the college application process and ultimately build self-confidence, said Lassan Bagayoko ’22, the fellowship’s coordinator.
Because the pandemic halted in-person meetings, the program was able to expand its reach to include high school students hailing from across the globe, from California to Kenya. They met twice a week from late June to early August and offered personalized mentoring sessions.
Muhamadou Jobarteh, a high school student from New York City who learned about the program through a friend, was paired with a Cornell mentor studying government and public education. He learned about law and college preparatory skills and built relationships with program participants.
Jobarteh added that he also learned school organizational skills, developing a LinkedIn page and the importance of community engagement. But mostly, he said he learned to believe in himself.
“The mentor taught me that you can only manifest certain things if you believe in yourself,” Jobarteh said. “He told me to believe in myself and my capabilities, even though sometimes I will feel like I’m not doing the best.”
Doreen Wanjiru, a high school student from Kenya with an interest in computer science and global health, learned about the program from a recently accepted Cornell student.
For Wanjiru, the program provided an in-depth interactive space to explore what it means to apply to universities abroad.
“For me, my high school, they don’t give guides to applying to universities abroad,” Wanjiru said. She explained that information about applications, like standardized testing, mostly comes from friends rather than schools.
“[The program] was just one of the best things that I’ve experienced in a long time,” Wanjiru said.
For mentors Deborah Yeboah ’22 and Selam Woldai ’23, the fellowship was a learning experience that encouraged them to create strong connections with their mentees.
“I really wanted to help students when it came to just searching for college and the college process,” Yeboah said. “I really wish someone did that for me.”
As a Black woman, Yeboah said she practiced a more intersectional approach to college advice and preparation with her Latinx mentee from California, empathizing with her experience as an underrepresented minority.
Yeboah said the program also taught her the importance of flexibility, but she most enjoyed watching her mentee grow throughout the program as she learned how to develop her resume and expand her approach to the college process.
Woldai originally joined the organization because she wanted to give back to the community. Bagayoko received the Janet McKinley ’74 Family Grant, which funds students interested in pursuing entrepreneurial summer projects, to support the fellowship.
“There’s really not that many of us to begin with so meeting another person, that looks like me,” Woldai said about working with a mentee who shared her ethnicity. “I know for her she really really loved that, and I’m like, I love that too.”
After completing the program, Woldai said she feels she is better able to shape her plans for the future and wants to highlight the recognitiown she believes SOSA deserves.
“I kept telling her just do whatever you think will make you the most happy,” Woldai said regarding the advice she gave her mentee. “Don’t just do it because you feel pressure to, don’t do anything ‘cause of whatever anyone else says. Just pursue literally your dreams as cliche as it sounds.”