Debra Hamilton Schoening ’81, G’83, G’98 says she was fortunate to have phenomenal mentors throughout her journey as an undergraduate and graduate student at Syracuse, through teaching, then as a principal, and in district leadership roles until her retirement from the position of the executive director of elementary education for the Syracuse City School District. “As my scope of leadership responsibilities increased,” she says, “I noticed an increasing dearth of candidates of color as well as an alarming attrition rate of those in the practice.”
Schoening’s research on the issue supported her own observations from the field, and she brought her concerns to the faculty and leadership of the School of Education. “The work of retaining excellent teachers and school leaders had to begin much sooner than their entry into the profession,” she says.
The SUSOE Diverse Connections group held a soft launch during Coming Back Together in 2017, bringing together key members of the Syracuse University community, the Syracuse City School District, and alumni of color from across the country and others interested in being an active part of the solution. Follow-up discussions continued with SOE faculty and campus units such as the Office of Multicultural Advancement to align resources for students and young alumni. Now, Schoening’s initial idea of a mentoring program has been developed and incorporated into the School of Education’s bolder and broader strategic plan goals of recruiting and retaining students of color into education fields.
Last year, Diverse Connections hosted two receptions for students and professionals of color connected to fields in education, counseling, and student services. Information was shared about scholarship opportunities for high-needs fields, and attendees were encouraged to pair with a mentor or mentee at the events or register online to be paired.
Cedric Bolton G’18, Program Coordinator of Student Engagement with the Office of Multicultural Affairs, answered the call to serve as a mentor. “I think the importance of having a mentor, is like having a coach who gives you the tools needed to be successful,” he says. “I want to share my years’ of experience in student affairs, wisdom, and who I am as a person.” He noted the importance the University must place on supporting faculty and staff of color so that they can support and guide African American/Black, Latinx, Native/Indigenous, Multiracial, or Asian students. “It is important for students to connect with staff and faculty of color that get it—the struggle, the culture, the historical celebrations, politics, religion, and the other engaging spaces across this campus community.”
Jessica Martinez G’20 has taken advantage of the mentoring opportunities through Diverse Connections and has also found value in connecting with faculty in her academic program. Martinez says her master’s advisor, James H. Rolling, Jr., professor and chair of arts education, played a critical role in her studies because he respects her and believes in her capacity, offering moral support and being present at important events and meetings. “Dr. Rolling is my role model,” she says, “not just because he is a person of color with specialized knowledge in the field of art education. He has humanity. Humanity and expert knowledge are what makes a great teacher.”
Schoening says that mentoring relationships are necessary for success in any profession, and critical at varying stages of one’s career, not just for novices. “Mentoring provides a safe space to decompress, debrief and design strategies for tackling the challenges that inevitably exist at ALL stages of one’s career— to stay focused on learning from not only on yours but also another’s experience ultimately to improve your craft. The make and model of that mentoring may change as one’s years of experience increase, but the need for support remains.”
The SUSOE Diverse Connections group continues to seek mentors from varying backgrounds, experience levels, and professions to become involved. “I’m confident that [we] will bring refreshing energy towards addressing the challenge of recruiting and retaining educators of color,” Schoening says.
We want to connect students, educators, and other professionals of color through the Diverse Connections mentoring initiative!
Learn more about becoming a mentor or mentee.
Contact Angela Flanagan, Development Assistant, firstname.lastname@example.org or 315.443.4752