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From our Fellows: The innovative potential of micro-mentoring

The Sisters of Charity Foundation (SOCF) of Cleveland’s fellowship, known as The Innovation Mission, is a powerful opportunity for accomplished professionals to advance their innovative ideas to change the trajectory of poverty in Cleveland. The five professionals we selected for The Innovation Mission began the fellowship in November 2017. We will be sharing their journey over the course of 18 months.

Now about halfway into the fellowship, we have asked each fellow to reflect on how they are learning the process of innovation. In this installment, Bill Leamon, college and career coach at Notre Dame College, highlights his biggest takeaways so far.


Every student who goes to college should have a mentor.

It’s a simple statement to make, but for those who have spent years in higher education, it may sound lofty – even unattainable. But by helping me focus on the problem at hand, The Innovation Mission has given me the time and space to think differently about how to approach mentoring, and how we can make this simple idea a fully scalable reality.

Throughout my career working with high school and college students, I know that many are seeking a role model. A majority of these students apply to traditional programs that offer several hours of one-on-one interaction each month, with a designated mentor.

High-touch, high-involvement programs are extremely effective and rewarding, but there are too many cases where a match is not made, and students may stay on the waiting list for years. This formative time is extremely valuable in terms of capturing college and career interests, and helping to steer students in the right direction, and many of these children or teens on the waiting lists are left without a key positive influence, because there aren’t many other options for free, one-on-one guidance available.

When I started thinking about how we could mentor every student on his or her way to college, I thought about the struggles of these high-touch programs with long waitlists, and I realized – I may, at any given time, be mentoring as many as 12 students at once in my day-to-day job. Students know that if they get in a jam, they face a problem or a concern, or they’re just scared, they can send me a text and I’ll respond within minutes.

Now, mentoring is my job, and a dozen students at a time isn’t what’s expected of most volunteer mentors, but there are many highly capable individuals who seek out traditional programs and are hindered by the requirements to mentor just one person. What if we used the methods through which I can reach dozens of students, and applied them to every student heading to college? Students today get as much information as they need out of a text – most don’t choose phone calls, and many don’t check email.

The innovative potential of what I call “micro-mentoring” is strong. In the minds of modern students, regular face-time is no longer a necessity, and so micro-mentoring allows mentors and mentees to communicate the way they want to, and have the right conversations at the right time. This technology also allows for the many-to-one approach, where a willing mentor can take on multiple mentees, with only a commitment of a few texts or emails a week when they need it.

Through workshop time, research and conversation, I’m now able to use many of the tools from The Innovation Mission to put this idea into practice. One of the most important elements of innovation is the value proposition, so I’ve been crafting my pitch and elevator speech and recruiting local schools to participate in my pilot programs. At one local high school, we matched more than 100 students with mentors in less than 50 days. Now each graduating senior has a person they can count on to help them navigate their first year at college.

As I work to implement pilot programs in a handful of schools to start, I’ll be measuring retention results to see if micro-mentoring really is a beneficial solution. The structure of The Innovation Mission and collaboration with other experts will help me work toward a scalable model in the coming months. I’m looking forward to the continued challenge, and especially to the potential for reward for hundreds, even thousands, of Cleveland area high school students.




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Bill Leamon



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