Categories: Opinion

First-Gen Rutgers Grad Has Five Tips on Mentorship: First, It Takes a Village

Andrej Gjorgiev is a first-generation immigrant and graduate of Rutgers University-Newark’s Class of 2021. He is currently a Program Manager of Workforce Development at Braven.

January is National Mentoring Month, and I find myself reflecting on the many influential mentors in my life to date. I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase “it takes a village,” and as cliché as it sounds, it’s true.

As an immigrant and first-generation college graduate, I’ve been blessed with incredible mentors along my high school and college career. For instance, throughout my journey playing sports, I’ve had incredible coaches who were essentially mentors along the way. One of them was my soccer coach, Mark Piekło. He saw the potential in me and our team, and he always gave us chances to prove ourselves at varsity games while we were in junior varsity. The biggest lessons he taught me were 1) to dream big and 2) give my all to everything that I do. Maybe most importantly, I knew he genuinely cared about me as a person; this came through when I would ask for his advice, whether it be what I wanted to do after high school or whether or not to continue playing soccer given an injury my senior year.

Another mentor that immediately comes to mind is Avni Nahar. She was a mentor I was paired with this year through a class at Rutgers University-Newark powered by Braven, a nonprofit that helps students like me on their paths to successful careers. I participated in the Professional Mentor Program with Braven because I was having a hard time figuring out what I wanted to do after college and what my options were.

Back in Macedonia, I knew what my future career path would be, but moving to the United States was a huge change and afforded me with a world of opportunities. I knew I wanted to help people, but my idea of how I could do that was limited to protecting citizens through law enforcement. Avni helped me realize that there were lots of great nonprofits doing incredible work and helping people everyday, a route I had never considered because I was a Criminal Justice major with a minor in Psychology. She helped me realize that a degree doesn’t define who I am, and I ultimately decided that I wanted to work in the nonprofit sector and help influence other students instead.

Regardless of where you are in your journey, everyone needs a Mark and Avni in their lives. Here are some tips to finding mentors and maintaining your relationships with them:

  • First and foremost, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you’re like me, maybe that doesn’t come so easily to you, but it’s so important to set aside your pride and ask for advice from people who have been in your shoes before.
  • You can have multiple mentors, and that is completely okay. Think about all of the clubs or sports you’re involved in or classes you’ve taken. If there’s someone you really admire, tell them and ask them if they’d consider giving you some advice. Most times, they will say yes!
  • Your relationship with each mentor might also look different, and that is normal as well. Everyone has different working styles and personalities. At the end of the day, remember that they have your best interest at heart. Be open-minded to perspectives other than your own.
  • Follow through is so important. If you promise to do something after your meeting with your mentor, do it. If you make a mistake, own it. These are people who will likely be willing to connect you with their own networks, and it’s important to show that you always put your best foot forward.
  • Be grateful that your mentor is willingly helping you and be understanding of their time. Life happens and things will come up. Be flexible with your and their schedule.

One of my all-time favorite quotes is by John C. Maxwell: “Dreams don’t work unless you do.” Mentorship is a great way to help you move towards your dreams, and I hope this motivates you to take the first step in reaching out to a mentor this month.

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