20 for 20: Amy Vetger

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Say hello to Amy. She was a mentor and volunteer in Schenectady between 2006-2010. She also helped to recruit mentors in Schenectady between 2007-2010 as a mentor coordinator. After mentoring with Sponsor-A-Scholar, Amy has gone on to mentor in San Diego, CA, where she now lives. She has been mentoring for more than a decade with various programs.

How did you learn about Sponsor-A-Scholar?

I was friends with the head of guidance at Schenectady High School, Chris Angione. After I lived through the college application process with my daughter, Chris thought I should share my newfound knowledge with Sponsor-A-Scholar. Since there was a shortage of mentors, I worked with a small group of students between 2006 and 2010.
 

What made you want to become a mentor?

To be able to help students whose parents didn’t go to college. I was a first-generation-to-college student myself. I did it totally on my own, and suffered for it. I never had a mentor in high school or college and as an adult realized what I had missed. I want to be the support to young people that I lacked in high school and college. I understand that in today’s world, young people need many different adults in their corner to guide them through the maze of college applications and career options.

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome in college or high school?

I was constantly wondering, “How do I know what to do?” Figuring life out on my own was really tough. I had no guidance on majors, or requirements in college. I literally made a choice about my major in my senior year, based on the fact that I had taken more literature classes than anything else.

What do you like best about mentoring?

Seeing a student be successful  reaching their goals. Two of my mentees really skyrocketed. One student earned a masters, and she is now an engineer and has traveled around the world.

Ultimately a mentor helps the mentee to realize: “You’ve got to do what you want to do--you should seek out others’ opinions but the final decision must be your own.”

What is your proudest moment as a mentor?

I gave one of my mentees a little piece of advice about her college acceptance that totally changed her life. She wanted to go to Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), but needed $5,000 in financial aid to make it happen. She had been accepted to other schools, but RIT was her first choice. She was really torn because her parents and her guidance counselor wanted her to go elsewhere. But I knew that this was what she really wanted based on our past conversations. So I said, “Here’s what you need to do, call the admissions office, and tell them that RIT is your first choice but you need $5,000. If they can give you the money you’ll commit on the spot.” She followed my advice, got the money, and earned her degree from RIT. I remember her calling me when she found out that she got the money. It was a wonderful moment that I will never forget.

What is challenging about mentoring? What do you do about those challenges?

The biggest challenge is when you can’t connect with the student and they don’t recognize the value of the opportunity of working with a mentor. In that case, I am persistent in reaching out to the student. I also ask a student who is using the mentoring support and finding it to be useful to reach out to the student who is less responsive, which sometimes works.

Sometimes at the end of the program, students more fully realize the value of a mentoring relationship and they say,“I wish I would have used you more.”  That breaks my heart.

What is the most important piece of advice you would share with a mentee?

Don’t let a little setback mean anything. Try. If someone says no, so what? Try something else, or talk to someone else.

Don’t take negative criticism personally--most of the time, it’s not about you.

What is the best part of mentoring?

I am unbelievably proud of all of the students I’ve mentored. The best part of mentoring is getting to watch your students grow and achieve their goals.

I went to one of my mentees’ high school graduations, and her parents came up and hugged me, which was awesome. It showed me how much they valued what I had done for their daughter.

I’m still in touch with some of my first mentees to this day. For me, I have no hidden agenda as a mentor. I want what’s best for the mentee.

What would you say to someone who is considering becoming a mentor?

You can make a difference in the world. You can share how you got to where you are.  Sometimes just by listening,  you can change someone’s life. You have a unique role to play. This student doesn’t have anyone like you in their life.  To be able to step in and help them is just as rewarding for you as it is for them.    

I also want to say that the parents of the students are quite smart, and they want what’s best for their kids. Due to their circumstances, they don’t know how to navigate the system, and they are very grateful to mentors for helping their children in that regard.

Amy, you're an inspiration, thank you!