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The New Mentors

by Thomas Evans - 2000

Although we have a tendency to lay blame on our public schools for the current state of American education, a plausible case can be made for another major contributing factor, as well. Over the past decades, there has been a diminution in the number of caring adults who pay attention to our children. We were once a mentoring society; we are not now. In the past few years, a surge of new mentors has emerged, however, rising from programs sponsored by business, community and national organizations. This influx may make a difference, but the new mentors, though numbering in the millions, presently fall far short of filling the mentor gap. This article, through in-depth vertical analyses of four case studies, attempts to probe the question of what mentors do to enhance education and the school and career readiness of mentees.

Although we have a tendency to lay blame on our public schools for the current state of American education, a plausible case can be made for another major contributing factor, as well. Over the past decades, there has been a diminution in the number of caring adults who pay attention to our children. We were once a mentoring society; we are not now. In the past few years, a surge of new mentors has emerged, however, rising from programs sponsored by business, community, and national organizations. This influx may make a difference, but the new mentors, though numbering in the millions, presently fall far short of filling the mentor gap. This article, through in-depth vertical analyses of four case studies, attempts to probe the question of what mentors do to enhance education and the school and career readiness of mentees.

There was a time when mentoring was a major thread in the fabric of American business. Young workers were selected and trained through apprenticeship. Their advancement depended on individual performance and was often the result of strong sponsorship by the apprentice's trainer or supervisor. As assembly lines and mass production became the norm, the apprenticeship system withered away. Individual sponsorship for promotion was significantly muted by collective bargaining. In rural America, the one-to-one hiring and training that persisted on small farms (where the family unit was at the core of the workforce) virtually disappeared as these farms gave way to massive units, where labor was seasonal and transitory.

A similar erosion of Mentoring took place in the learned professions. Until the last quarter of the nineteenth century, lawyers gained their education by "reading for the law" in the office of a practicing attorney; school teachers learned at the side of more experienced classroom veterans; journalists were trained by seasoned reporters whose legends were often nourished by their own vivid creative skills. Today, graduate schools provide the education credentials generally needed to meet state requirements or hiring standards.

More recently, the disappearance of mentors that has marked business and professional institutions has been accompanied by a diminution of mentoring in neighborhoods and within families. The large number of children born out of wedlock, the struggle of single mothers in economically destitute urban and rural areas, and the increasing number of mothers in the workplace, without attendant increased participation in parenting by fathers, has led to a generation of children who do not have the benefit of a close relationship with a caring adult. This situation is exacerbated by the increased demands made on teachers and coaches, who once had the time to tutor or sponsor students who demonstrated a need through their poor performance for just such individual attention.

When the low achievement of American youth is mentioned, blame is generally attached to the unfortunate condition of our schools, including bad facilities, untrained, underpaid, and overworked teachers, and outdated curriculum. These problems must certainly be addressed. Lost in this discussion, however, is the disappearance of mentoring as a pillar of American society and the effect ||at this has had on performance of children in school and even before they reach school. Recent efforts to supply mentors—General Colin Powell's America's Promise: The Alliance for Youth hopes to recruit one million—are impressive. But they still fall far short of bridging the mentor gap.

This article will review some of the mentor programs involving preschool, school-aged and post-high school youngsters, where the programs are sponsored by businesses and professions and by the community at large. Prominent critics of mentoring will be heard from and their concerns addressed. Finally, four case studies will be examined in some detail to analyze the results they have achieved and to ascertain whether it is worthwhile to replicate programs such as those that have spawned the cases.


Albert Shanker, the late president of the American Federation of Teachers, once observed that "mentoring is as chancy as a blind date—and no more likely to lead to the lasting and solid relationships these kids need."1 The romance analogue is a favorite among opponents of mentor programs. Margo Murray notes that critics often see formal programs as "arranged marriages—utilitarian but often lacking passion."2 In his book The Kindness of Strangers: Adult Mentors, Urban Youth and the New Volunteerism, Mark Freed-man raises more prosaic but still fundamental questions about staff capability to make appropriate matches between mentors and mentees, and criticizes the adequacy of training and follow-up in many programs.3 As a result of this and other criticism, concerns have grown as to the possible negative effects of mentoring, thus frustrating expansion and replication to meaningful proportions.4

It is not the adamant and vocal critics of mentoring who are the threat to greater acceptance, however. More troubling are the potential mentor participants who are drawn to the idea, but fearful that their work as mentors will not produce a result commensurate with the time commitment required, or that, since they have not received extensive formal training, their efforts might even prove harmful to the young people to whom they might be assigned. This article is-an attempt to probe these concerns, to examine the individual and community outcomes of successful corporate programs, and to study, through in-depth review of four cases, the factors that tend to make mentoring effective.

Before proceeding further, a brief note of history and definition is in order. The word "mentor" comes from the name of the friend (Mentor) whom Odysseus asked to look after his son Telemachus when Odysseus embarked on the long journey described in Homer's Odyssey. Consequently, the word "mentor" is most Often used to describe a "one-to-one" relationship of an adult with a child. In practice, the definition has been expanded, however, to cover situations in which a single individual has many relationships with younger people (e.g., a teacher or coach with his or her students/ team) and to programs in which groups of older individuals relate to younger proteges or "mentees" (e.g., the law mentor program, where a firm of lawyers works with a class of students). Both the narrow (traditional) and expanded definitions are used in this article.5

One other aspect of mentoring deserves mention at this point: the alleged distinction between programmatic and natural mentoring. In her study of the mentoring process as it relates to career progress, Dora Summers-Ewing observes that "research indicates that there are two types of mentors (formal and informal) and two primary mentoring functions: psychosocial and career."6 Some critics see a "mysterious; chemical attraction" in informal relationships,7 which they steadfastly refuse to admit exists in structured (or formal) programs. One study concludes that "mentoring . . . seems to work best when it is simply 'allowed to happen.'"8 This alleged dichotomy will be examined after reviewing specific cases later in this article.


Four cases are presented in an attempt to explain how mentoring works. (The much more complex question of why it works, with its infinite variables and paucity of data, will only be touched on here. That is an area that cries out for scholarly research and cognitive insight.) The cases are set out in some detail. These are vertical studies, intended to explore four aspects traditionally involved in mentor relationships: role model, tutor, sponsor and motivator. Later, having established a context, we shall review some of the more frequent horizontal studies (surveys that show, for example, that 98% of the at risk students in a mentor program stayed in school, as compared to an 11% dropout rate in the control group, or that a school in which certain students were mentored showed a significant decline in participation in acts of violence by those students when compared to a control group of similar students).9 There is a high incidence of lawyers in the cases selected, reflecting the author's greatest familiarity as a professional, a mentor, and an observer.


Ironically, it was rejection by a law school that led Thurgood Marshall to the track that would establish his life's work.10 Howard Law School—where Thurgood Marshall met his mentor, Charles Houston—was not Marshall's first choice. He wanted instead to go to the University of Maryland's law school, but was excluded on the basis of race.

Instead of applying to the "separate Negro law school" established by the state of Maryland, in 1930 Marshall applied to Howard University law school in Washington, DC, where many of the nation's black professionals—lawyers, doctors, dentists, engineers, architects, nurses, and pharmacists—had been educated. Dr. Mordecai W. Johnson, who became Howard University's first black president in 1926, recruited a faculty of outstanding individuals, such as Ralph Bunche, later of the United Nations, and William Henry Hastie, who became the nation's first African American federal judge.

One of Mordecai Johnson's stellar recruits was Charles Hamilton Houston. Houston had graduated from Amherst College, where he was class valedictorian and Phi Beta Kappa. At Harvard Law School, Houston graduated in the top 5 percent of his class, and earned not only an LLB, but an SJD degree, as well. At the time of Houston's appointment to the Howard Law School faculty, there were only 1,100 lawyers among 12 million African Americans. Houston was appointed Vice Dean of Howard Law School the year before Marshall arrived.

As demanding as he was on his law students, Houston was even more demanding on himself. Houston was able to inculcate in the students who knew him and watched him work his capacity for industry and diligence. Marshall recalled: "Charlie Houston was one of the greatest lawyers I've ever been privileged to know, He was a perfectionist of the first order. I have seen him writing a brief and spending the whole day looking for one word—just the right word."11 In 1933, Marshall graduated first in his class, magna cum laude. Through the recommendation of Harvard Law Dean Roscoe Pound, he was offered a fellowship to study in Europe. Instead, Marshall entered private practice, spending the bulk of his time working on litigation for the NAACP, often on teams led by Charles Houston.

Soon after graduation, Marshall revisited the issue of professional school segregation. He wanted especially to attack the unconstitutional admissions practices that he knew from bitter personal experience existed at the law school of the University of Maryland. Charles Houston came to Maryland to take charge of the trial. Marshall was at his side. According to one observer, Houston "put on a clinic," especially as he examined Maryland University president R. A. Pearson, under whose regime minority students (including Marshall) had been systematically excluded from the university, as a "hostile witness." At the conclusion of the brief trial, it took the judge only a few minutes to grant the mandamus that admitted Donald Murray, the grandson of a bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, to the law school of the University of Maryland.12

With the Maryland decision and the cases that followed, Thurgood Marshall was launched as a combatant for the NAACP and the rights of minorities. In time, he became counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Solicitor General of the United States, and an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.


Are there some generalizations we can derive from this classic mentor relationship? First and foremost, Houston was there for Marshall to see and hear: he was a role model Marshall was an intelligent man and dedicated student. But would he have become the meticulous litigator that he was had he not seen Houston search an entire day for a single word in a brief? Marshall himself gives the credit to Houston. Second, Houston was a tutor. He taught his protege the details of the practice and took him to court to see lawyers in action, giving a critique afterward on precisely what was good and bad about the performances of the trial lawyers they had observed. Third, Houston was Marshall's sponsor when Marshall joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) litigation team. Finally, Houston was a motivator, although this influence may have been secondary to the bitter pill of Marshall's exclusion from law school on racial grounds and other deprivations based on race.

It is important to note that every mentor does not have to fulfill all aspects of the mentor's role. Charles Houston's primary mentor function was as Thurgood Marshall's role model. Marshall could observe Houston at close hand, whether in the course of a courthouse visit or while bringing sandwiches and coffee to Houston, Hastie, and others as they did their research in the Howard library. Certainly Houston provided the other three aspects of mentoring, as noted above. But were these other aspects of Houston's role essential to Marshall's development?

Could Houston (or any person or event) have motivated Marshall more in his life's work than his exclusion from Maryland Law School? Would not Marshall, who stood first in his class, have been sponsored for employment with the NAACP by Hastie or others, with whom he worked on civil rights litigation while still a student? And didn't his tutoring come largely from those with whom he worked as a student assistant (this would be referred to as clinical assignments or an internship, today) and from his classes?

Charles Houston was mentor to dozens of law students. This did not diminish his significance in the development of particular individual proteges. And Houston was not Marshall's only mentor. His mother was a schoolteacher; his father worked as a Pullman car porter and a steward at a Maryland country club. They provided a stable, caring background for young Thurgood. Most significant, perhaps, was the avocation of Thurgood Marshall's father. On his days off, he would visit Baltimore courtrooms to watch trials, often taking young Thurgood with him.13

How important was it in their mentoring relationship that Houston and Marshall were both African Americans? The possible negative effects of "cross-racial" and "cross-cultural" mentoring are areas of concern.14 There are no easy answers in this area, but it is instructive on this point to review the mentor chain involving Thurgood Marshall. Charles Houston often brought Harvard Law Professor Felix Frankfurter and Harvard Law Dean Roscoe Pound to Howard as lecturers. They were among Houston's mentors and played a significant role in Houston's appointment to the Howard faculty. Frankfurter was born in Vienna and was the only Jew on the Harvard Law School faculty. He was a founder of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). He also served on the NAACP Legal Advisory Committee. Frankfurter's own career moved ahead in substantial part due to the persistent efforts of his mentor, Henry L. Stimson, who had been Frankfurter's chief when Stimson was U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Stimson later served in the cabinets of three U.S. presidents. When Marshall served on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, one of his law clerks was Ralph Winter, who became Marshall's men tee and now serves on the Second Circuit himself (currently as Chief Judge). Winter, a Caucasian who was a law professor at Yale before he went on the bench, served as mentor to countless students, clerks and interns, a number of whom were African Americans.15


"The first night she came here and slept on the couch. Her face was scarred from the beating. The two dogs came to her and licked her face, and kept licking, and slept with her on the couch. And they never came to strangers:"16 Mary's recollection of that first night Latoya came to her apartment will always be etched vividly in her memory. Latoya slept on that couch each night for the next five months. The experience probably saved her life.

Latoya first met Mary in a mentor program in which the teenager's Manhattan high school was paired with Mary's law firm, Kirkpatrick & Lockhart. Actually Mary was not Latoya's mentor; partner Gerald A. Novack had drawn that assignment. One day in March of 1994, when the students visited the firm, Latoya's face was bruised and swollen, her eye blackened and almost totally closed. Gerry Novack brought Latoya down the hall to meet Mary Corrarino. Gerry thought that Latoya might be more forthcoming if she were able to tell the story of her abuse to a woman. It might also prove useful that this woman was an experienced trial lawyer and a former prosecutor.

"I had never seen her before," Mary remembers. 'You could easily put her on the roller coaster of the system. But if you look in her face, there's something that just makes you stop." Latoya required every ounce of her indomitable spirit simply to survive. For four years—ever since her mother had abandoned Latoya at a local precinct station in Manhattan—she had lived with her father. According to Latoya, Sidney Sims' weekend routine was to beat his teenage daughter. Mary Corrarino acted immediately. She photographed Latoya's bruises and had her appear daily after school at her office. Soon thereafter, Sidney Sims was indicted on charges of attempted assault and abuse. He eventually pleaded guilty to second-degree attempted assault and was given five years' probation.

Since he has been on probation, Latoya's father has dropped out of her life. Still, Latoya felt she could not live with her mother, who had struggled with drug problems over the years and had abandoned her in the past. For five months, Latoya slept each night on Mary's couch. She soon fit in as a member of the family. She earned extra money by baby-sitting for the children who lived in the apartment next door. She became part of holiday celebrations, helping Mary to prepare the turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Although Latoya showed considerable self-discipline and industry, Mary was most encouraged when Latoya began to relax enough to get more causal in her lifestyle. "When she started leaving her clothes around," Mary said, "I took that as a good sign." Even as the relationship, thrived, however, Mary felt that Latoya needed a real home and a full-time foster mother. "I was not confident that I could give her emotionally what she needed," Mary observed. "I felt she could do a lot better than me."

As Latoya entered her late teens, she found herself developing a "network," a support system to help her move on. The mentor program at the firm brought her Gerald Novack and Mary Corrarino. At her high school, Latoya worked with a guidance counselor, Arthur Kirson, who provided useful insights into her next steps. Although Latoya had been accepted at Long Island University, she did not feel that she was ready to perform at her best. On Kirson's advice, she decided to attend a postgraduate program at Blair Academy, a private school in New Jersey. Through a friend of Mary's—Charisse Jones—the New York Times published Jones' article about Latoya, which helped Mary to raise the $20,000 tuition and expenses necessary for Latoya's postgraduate year. Latoya now has a foster mother, one of those rare individuals who is willing to take an older child into her home. Latoya feels "she's cool" and enjoys weekends with her in Brooklyn, when Latoya is not away at school.


What generalizations can we draw from the Corrarino/Sims case history? What began as "formal" mentor relationship, part of a program, developed into an "informal" or natural relationship, similar to the evolution we saw in the first case. The formal/informal dichotomy may be useful in analyzing motivation in career advancement, but there would seem to be no need to elevate it to the level of a deterrent to establishing mentor programs. The element of caring is the common thread arid it is clear that it can flourish and grow even in instances in which the relationship begins in a program.

Referring again to four key aspects of mentoring, we see that Mary was an important sponsor of Latoya—helping her to resolve her family situation; helping her to get into Blair Academy; giving her a place to live at a critical time—and to some extent a role model Both Mary and Latoya felt that Latoya should live with a foster mother, however. The warm reception that Latoya found with Mary, the comfort and acceptance, were undoubtedly a motivation for Latoya to develop her considerable natural strengths.

Mary did not act as a tutor to Latoya, certainly not to the extent that Houston worked with Marshall in their joint approach to their profession. Of course, this does not detract from the effect she had on her mentee's life. A mentor's role may be a limited one, but still extremely important in the life of her protege. Amidst the many facets of her mentor role, Mary's greatest impact on Latoya's life probably came as a sponsor. Through Mary, Latoya was introduced to a network of talented and supportive individuals who helped her to obtain legal protection and separation from her parents, to adjust to a healthy family life, and to gain admission and financing for boarding school. Mary, too, played other mentor parts, but without her sponsorship, Latoya's life would, most likely, have been markedly different.

Why did Mary step into the role of mentor? The answer was similar to the situation in which Charles Houston found himself. Like Houston, Corrarino was part of a chain. Corrarino entered the office of Queens District Attorney Michael Armstrong as a legal secretary and moved from investigator to paralegal to law school to lawyer, all with Armstrong's sponsorship and guidance. When Latoya asked Mary why she found room in her home and her heart, Mary's answer reflected an experience that is common to virtually all mentors: "Because somebody did this for me. You pass it along in life."


If you should see Ernest W. Lorch entering the Riverside Church at six o'clock on any weekday evening, you would, by the manner in which he dresses and by his serious demeanor, recognize him fir what he is: a distinguished senior lawyer, of counsel to the respected Wall Street firm of Whitman Breed Abbott & Morgan; the former president of the Park Avenue investment firm of Dyson-Kissner-Moran Corporation, with assets under management of more than $1 billion; and a member of the church's vestry, formerly its chairman. It is only after he enters the building that a different Lorch emerges: he goes down one flight of stairs to the basement, throws his overcoat and briefcase in a small, cramped office filled with athletic trophies, glances at the mail on his desk and, finally, exchanges his black shoes for sneakers, places a lanyard with a whistle on it around his neck, and goes off to the basketball court down the hall in the basement of the church.

Even as he begins his nightly supervision of practice, the whistle and sneakers appear to be his only concession to his changed role. He has arrived late and as he enters the court, he still wears the three-piece navy blue suit, his oxford button-down shirt and regimental-striped tie, his work clothes over the years as a lawyer and investment advisor. As his transition to coach begins, some of the formality of his other life is maintained as the players on the court—most of whom are tall, black teenagers—refer to him respectfully as "Mr. Lorch."

As the season progresses, he is often referred to as "Coach," and what a coach he is! When Sports Illustrated discovered the Riverside Church program in 1985, the article focused on three first-round draft choices in that year's NBA draft who had played for the Riverside Hawks—Chris Mullen, Ed Pinckney and Jerry Reynolds. In the following year's first round, Walter Berry was a Riverside alumnus.17

Lorch is justifiably proud of his program. Fifty NBA players have been Riverside Hawks; thirteen are active in the NBA today. But Lorch is equally pleased with the entry of twenty-six of his volunteer assistant coaches into coaching, and of the hundreds of youngsters who have gone on to college on basketball scholarships, where they might not otherwise have gone to college at all.

Today the Riverside program is huge. Some three hundred boys and girls play on the teams each year. They are divided into the Biddys (ages 11-13), the Midgets (ages 13-15), the Juniors (ages 15-17), and the Seniors (ages 17-19). These teams play in a city-wide club league. The program lasts for eleven months. While Lorch concentrates now on the Junior and Senior teams, he has a staff of eight volunteer coaches and assistants, so that all of the players in the program get a high measure of individual instruction.

Lorch admits that he takes particular pride in the Riverside Winter Team. This team is made up of youngsters who, for whatever reason, are not playing high school basketball. They may be fifth-year seniors or kids who dropped out of school at one point. The team plays a 16-game college game schedule, challenging the junior varsity teams of Ivy League schools. "We've beaten Yale, Penn, Harvard," Lorch chuckles. "Y' know, all those real smart kids." But Lorch's pride goes beyond the Hawks' win-loss record. Of the twelve kids on a recent Winter Team, eleven are now in college.

"The biggest reward," says Lorch, "is not the NBA kids. It's primarily the kids we have who would not otherwise be going anywhere. We tell them basketball is a weapon. It gets you from here to there. It's not an end. It's a means to an education, a way to get out and see the world and enlarge your perspective. Through the Riverside Church basketball program, they've basically all gone to college and done something with themselves."

Because the youngsters have seen others go on to higher education, they adjust to Lorch's often demanding regimen. "We provide discipline in a caring atmosphere," explains Lorch. "The kids see the discipline is there in order to help them, not me."


The movie Hoop Dreams focuses on two teenagers who hope to use their basketball skill to go to college and ultimately play in the NBA. The dream of financial success and fame as a professional athlete permeates the entire urban African American community. As the film pursues the careers of the two central figures, we see that their brothers, uncles, and neighbors tried to live the same dream—in almost every instance without success.

The Riverside Hawks are winners and there is no question that the young men, and now young women, who play on Lorch's teams are driven by a hoop dream. This is their motivation. Lorch uses this dream to help his mentees enter college and go on to successful lives. He is often their sponsor with college scouts and coaches. He and his assistant coaches are tutors in the skills of basketball, but they also use the motivation to help them in other ways (e.g., academic counseling, self-esteem). Lorch can tell you how each of his players is doing in school. One of his desk drawers contains all of their report cards, information they have voluntarily shared with him. And, as we have seen, Lorch provides a role model well beyond basketball.

Lorch is able to carry out his work as a mentor even though he is one man working with hundreds of youngsters. While he is, generally, nowhere near as close to his mentees as Houston and Corrarino were to theirs^ he still fulfills each of the four basic mentor functions. Nevertheless, the most compelling aspect of his mentoring comes from his work as a tutor. Through Lorch and his coaching staff, young men and women have gained skills that have brought most of them an education and, to some, great fame and fortune. He supplied the other characteristics of a strong mentor, but his proteges came to him and were changed by him largely because he could teach them something they desperately wanted to know.


How much is enough? Is a "minimal" relationship worth the time involved? "Richard," a senior lawyer in the one-to-one aspect of the law program reported after three meetings with his mentee that he didn't think the relationship was going to work out.18 "We have nothing in common," he said. He had gone to Ivy League schools and was a partner emeritus in one of the classic "white shoe" Wall Street law firms. His mentee was Hispanic and came from the South Bronx. When Richard's concern was brought to the attention of Debra Lesser, the administrator of the program, she said, "You cannot disturb that relationship. George [the mentee] looks forward to it. He is pleased that a respected lawyer spends time with him. George was previously in danger of becoming a dropout, but is now on the perfect attendance honor roll in ninth grade." The pair was kept together. Berhaps of the greatest importance, Richard was there to listen to George, apparently filling a vacuum. The capacity to listen has proven to be a significant part of the mentor's role.19 The relationship ripened and lasted for four years, until George graduated from high school.


Each party now says he learned something from the other. George is currently working at Richard's law firm to earn money for college. This relationship might be classified as "cross-cultural." This case is included in this article because a simple relationship such as the pairing of Richard and George can prove highly beneficial. While Richard currently acts as a sponsor for George (in the course of George's employment), his most important function has been as a motivator. Richard supplied motivation to George to do better in school. Academic improvement has led to George's acceptance in college. The mentee's greater proficiency in school came as a by-product of his relationship with his mentor, which began with biweekly meetings in the school cafeteria. At the outset, Richard was surprised to discover that George, who was then in ninth grade, had never read a book. We can learn from Richard's role as a "motivator," because Richard is not a spellbinding speaker whose talk is filled with inspirational anecdotes. To the contrary, anyone meeting him would describe Richard as "understated," a term that might also be used to describe George. Nevertheless, a new George emerged from the relationship, more interested in his schoolwork, focused on college, and enjoying reading (Richard might say this goes a little too far) and other aspects of life he had not known before. And, according to the mentor himself, a new Richard emerged from the relationship, as well, more interesting as a person and broader in scope.

This particular aspect of mentoring—motivation—has been described by Summers-Ewing as the "psycho-social" mentoring function. She describes it as including "those aspects of the relationship which enhance a protege's sense of competence, identity and effectiveness. . . ."20 There is an undefinable quality to this part of the mentor's role that leads some observers to overlook it and others to underrate it. (They look to mentoring primarily to provide instruction in specific skills or an entry to the job market.) It is the contention here, however, that motivation can be a key element in mentor relationships.

This relationship demonstrates that mentoring can raise expectations—furnish mutual insights into other worlds—while simultaneously placing these expectations into a realistic context. It was certainly not an elaborate program, largely involving biweekly meetings at lunch time. Richard did not try to be George's parent or his best friend. He was his mentor, a role that has existed for centuries, and that continues to fill a special place in human development.


The critical comments about mentoring set out at the beginning of this article—Albert Shanker's view that the process is as "chancy as a blind date" and Mark Freedman's concern about the capability of those making the mentor pairings and the adequacy of training and follow-up—can now be addressed in the context of the cases cited above and other examples.

It is important to note that the mentor relationships described in our four cases all began with formal programs. As Vice Dean of Howard Law School, Charles Houston was assigned to work with students, to take them to court, and to introduce them to leading practitioners. Mary Corrarino met her mentee in a law mentor program, one of many in which her firm participated. Richard and George were paired in a similar program. Ernie Lorch set up the Riverside Hawks program at the direction of the vestry of his church. The vestry, of which Lorch was a member—the tallest member and the only one with any basketball experience—realized that the communicant body had expanded beyond Columbia University families to include residents of the housing projects that were moving southward from Harlem and the South Bronx.

Opponents of structured relationships have apparently forgotten that the pairing of Mentor and Telemachus in Homer's classic story was itself a facilitated arrangement, based on the custom that prevailed in ancient Greece of providing surrogates for fathers whose military obligations required extensive foreign travel.21 Of course, once established, relationships can become more personal and intense. This often happens in mentoring.

All mentoring includes an element of chance—whether it involves neighbors, friends, older relatives, or senior fellow-workers, on the one hand, or individuals who participate in a program designed to address a particular need (e.g., reducing the drop-out rate among at risk students or providing volunteer tutors), on the other. A formal program admittedly involves a greater awareness of this factor than a relationship that develops spontaneously. After all, if a neighbor turns out to be a poor mentor, thus negatively affecting a child, or if a mentor is exposed to potential legal liability as a result of his/her relationship with a young relative, these incidents are viewed as part of life. But if these effects rise from a program, then those who participate in or have established the program are exposed to risk—one that can be avoided by simply not embarking on the program. Inaction is the surest policy for risk avoidance and the last refuge of the bureaucrat.

The results achieved in the four case studies are evidence of the merit of mentor relationships. Outcomes of other mentor programs—drop-out reduction,22 lessening of violence in school,23 increased interest in studies and heightened respect for teachers24—while less dramatic, are also impressive. The principal topic to be reviewed in the remainder of this article is whether mentor programs achieve benefits that are worth the time of the mentors who enlist in these initiatives.


A number of organizations are involved in mentoring. There are charitable entities of long standing that recruit and provide mentors25 and there is even a large foundation that acts as a catalyst to encourage mentoring at all levels.26 By and large, these organizations have established insurance, security, screening,27 and training28 programs that have satisfied their concerns about personal liability and competency.

Since the focus of this article is the role of business in mentoring, three aspects of business involvement will be examined in light of the generalizations derived from the cases: businesses as suppliers of mentors, businesses as sponsors of mentor programs, and the return of apprenticeship.

As a supplier of mentors

The objectives of a particular mentor program can define the pool of talent most suitable to achieve those goals (where a program is designed to provide senior citizens to read to or work with young children, for example, the AARP is an obvious source29 and in Massachusetts physically disabled adults are paired with disabled youngsters, achieving remarkable results in the performance of the mentees).30 In the corporate field, a program designed to enable gifted children interested in science to work on weekends and after school in corporate laboratories encouraged company scientists to participate as mentors.31 Another program of national scope recruits corporate employees to read to second graders at school once a week.32 In each instance, the program draws on particular talents or interests of corporate volunteers. In the science program, laboratory workers and technicians were proud to pass on their specialized skills to gifted youngsters who could appreciate these talents. (The program took place decades ago and is one of the few where a longitudinal study exists to track the mentees, two of whom became Nobel laureates.) The reading project has much more modest goals and demands, but it utilizes the interests of volunteers who know they have sufficient background to perform as tutors in classrooms where they know they are needed. Often this program operates in the inner city and works with an underserved group of students. The volunteers, like the highly trained scientists in the first example, know that they are making a difference. With both parties in this mentor pairing, there is often the element of "passion" (i.e., caring), which is supposedly absent in "formal" efforts.

As sponsors

Two of the case studies cited at the outset of this article come from the law mentor program (called MENTOR), which was started in 1981 with five New York City law firms paired with five high schools. Typically, a group of lawyers meets with a class of students at school or, more often, at the sponsoring firm's offices or on visits to local courthouses. Visits are generally followed by a sandwich lunch in a conference room at the firm. Students participate in the program by selecting a designated social studies class.33

It may be irreverent to compare this program with Houston and Marshall, one of the classic historic mentor relationships, but there are some parallels. Students see role models. At first, they view the lawyers as vastly different from themselves, but on increased contact, they discover their mentors are not so different. Some students gain sponsors, often for part-time jobs, sometimes for college and law school, and, in some instances, ultimately for employment as lawyers. Students are often tutored in debate skills, analysis, and writing, particularly if they are working on "moot court or mock trial. This is a particularly intense aspect of the program, bringing teams of eight students in contact with as many young lawyer-coaches, often working daily, including weekends, during the final weeks preceding the competition. These sessions are reminiscent of young Thurgood Marshall observing Houston, Hastie, and others as they worked on cases at night in the Howard law library. High school teachers almost universally comment that their students became "more articulate" in this process and say they can notice a change in class participation, even in casual conversations.34

Unquestionably, students are motivated—not so much to enter the legal profession; this involves a small percentage of the students—but to attend school more regularly, to do better in their schoolwork, to respect their teachers and their own rights more. Based on numerous surveys and testimonials, this multiple mentoring appears to present many of the benefits of the more traditional one-to-one format.35 The case of Richard and George is part of a one-to-one program directed by a foundation that was established to administer the multiple program, but is sponsored by another bar association and requires a four-year commitment from its lawyer-mentors.36

A Florida-based firm with hundreds of lawyers and paralegals has established its own program; Opening Doors for Children, which includes children from preschool to high school and aims to "inspire academic achievement, instill self-respect and build self-confidence."37 Hundreds of corporations directly sponsor mentor programs with well-documented results.38

The return of apprenticeship

The first of the cases cited, describing the classic mentor relationship of Charles Houston and Thurgood Marshall, took place within a professional school setting, but did not involve any courses or formal instruction. In recent years, law schools have added more clinical courses to provide practical knowledge, often presided over by adjuncts skilled in trial law and similar "real life" experiences. In a sense, this kind of instruction marks a return to the days of clerking or "reading for the law," when novices learned, through apprenticeship, the system of instruction of particular skills then current.

One company deserves particular mention in bringing back apprenticeship. Siemens Stromberg-Carlson is the U.S. subsidiary (with $7 billion in annual sales) of a $62 billion international company, with its home base in Germany. The company's confidence in apprenticeship is based in part on its system for training 13,000 apprentices in 30 countries throughout the world. Discussed below is the American extension of this system developed to meet competition in the global market with foreign companies that have highly trained employees.

The Siemens model is a two-and-a-half-year course combining instruction at a nearby community college with work in training classes at the company. Students are under the guidance of a meister. There are four pilot programs located in the United States in four different states.39 President Clinton has praised the program as "a system for non-college-bound young people to get education and training beyond high school, tied to the work place, at very high skill levels."40 The company has been described in this sense as a champion of the "new vocationalism" and its U.S. president, Albert Hoser, has been cited as a role model, along with individual meisters, for the students. A compelling part of Hoser's story is that he rose to the top of this major company even though his entire post—high school education was his time as an apprentice.41

The Siemens apprenticeship program does not necessarily exclude further education. Apprentices, who are paid a stipend by the company while in the program, receive an associate's degree from an affiliated community college and a technician's certificate from the corporation upon graduation. As a condition of entry into the program they agree to work for Siemens if they are offered a job, but they may choose to go on to a four-year college before they continue as an employee. At least one pilot program included "pre-apprentices" from an area high school. The entire U.S. program is under the direction of John Tobin, the company's Director of Applied Technology Training. Tobin is highly knowledgeable about American public education, having served as principal in three New York City high schools and as executive assistant to Chancellors of the New York City public schools. The company also sponsors a school-to-work program in high schools and shares its apprenticeship experience with ten other major U.S. companies that are designing similar efforts.42 In the apprenticeship program itself, the meisters fulfill all four of the classic mentor functions, with the company president, as noted, an impressive additional role model.


We were once a mentoring society. We are not now. Various factors, described at the beginning of this article, have eroded the influence of mentors on our young people, leaving them less prepared for school and work. But modern mentor programs are beginning to fill the gap. In some instances, close relationships have developed, as in the case of Corrarino and Sims. In others, a minimal program has produced positive results, as occurred in the case of Richard and George. Drop-out reduction, diminution of violence, and respect for teachers have resulted from formal mentor programs. Special skills, from basketball to high-tech, have come from multiple mentoring and apprenticeship, respectively. Hundreds of examples have shown that critics' concerns can be allayed when programs are established with care and caring.

The "psycho-social" aspect of mentoring, where a men tee's "sense of competence, identity, and effectiveness" can be enhanced, can occur in a "formal" program, as can the "mysterious chemical reaction" that some critics claim can only rise from a spontaneous pairing.43 But expectation must be tempered with reality. The comparison, earlier in this article, of the world of Hoop Dreams, on the one hand, and the carefully orchestrated mentoring efforts of Ernie Lorch, on the other, brings this point home. The fear of creating heightened expectations has been a deterrent to mentor recruitment. There is, however, an internal paradox in mentoring that infuses reality as it builds expectation. In the process, young people gain insights to new worlds not through fiction or film, but through contact with another human being—-through a "real life" experience.

Years ago, John Dewey wrote: "’Idealism’ must indeed come first—the imagination of some better state generated by desire. But unless ideals are to be dreams and idealism a synonym for romanticism and phantasy-building, there must be a most realistic study of actual conditions. . . ."44 This is the role of mentoring.

THOMAS W. EVANS is National Director of The Mentor Center, an educational consulting firm located in Bal Harbour, Florida. He has served as an Adjunct Professor of Education and Administration at Teachers College, where he was also Chairman of the Board of Trustees. In 1983, he founded MENTOR, a program in which law firms provided mentors for high school students, which grew to 22 states, involving as many as 50,000 students annually. His books include The School in the Home (1973) and Mentors: Making a Difference in Our Public Schools (1992).

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 102 Number 1, 2000, p. 244-263
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10365, Date Accessed: 10/27/2021 6:33:47 PM

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  • Thomas Evans
    The Mentor Center
    Thomas W. Evans is National Director of The Mentor Center, an educational consulting firm located in Bal Harbour, Florida. He has served as an Adjunct Professor of Education and Administration at Teachers College, where he was also Chairman of the Board of Trustees. In 1983, he founded MENTOR, a program in which law firms provide mentors for high school students, which grew to 22 states, involving as many as 50,000 students annually. His books include The School in the Home (1973) and Mentors: Making a Difference in Our Public Schools (1992).
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