“I wish I had a big sister when I was in middle school.”
— Nicole Elinoff, student at the University of Central Florida
Last year, a team of students and faculty in the women’s studies department at the University of Central Florida used an AAUW Campus Action Project (CAP) grant to further their work mentoring middle school girls in the area. The Young Women Leaders Program promotes middle school girls’ leadership abilities by partnering the girls with college women mentors. I had the chance to talk to three members of the UCF mentoring team — M.C. Santana, Emily Vrotsos, and Nicole Elinoff — about their experiences with mentoring and the lessons they’ve learned through their project.
With the grant funding, the team was able to open a dialogue with children and parents from their local community about bullying in schools. “We believe in a healthy community and a community made of all of us, including our children,” said Santana, who is the director of the women’s studies department at UCF. The mentoring program focuses on structured meetings on the topic of bullying and even brought in younger students for the middle school girls to mentor. The grant also helped fund in-depth research with the parents of middle school students, which helped confirm the need for the program in the community.
The Young Women Leaders Program has helped students like Elinoff work to build their own leadership skills so that they can better serve as role models. To have college women mentoring younger girls was especially important to the team because often girls may not feel comfortable telling their parents everything. “It really is difficult growing up and being in middle school,” said Elinoff. “Having a big sister is a really cool thing. Many of them haven’t had an older sister. … I wish I had a big sister when I was in middle school.”
Of course, the mentorship that takes place with the Young Women Leaders Program goes beyond the middle school participants. Vrotsos, the program’s staff coordinator, said she learned as much from the people whom she mentored as they learned from her. Both Elinoff and Vrotsos felt that the guidance from Santana and other faculty and staff helped to influence the students’ own mentoring styles.
Although its Campus Action Project is done, the university is committed to continuing its involvement with AAUW and mentorship. UCF is a new 2013 Elect Her site — with Elinoff leading as the student liaison — as well as the future site of a Tech Trek camp. The women’s studies department is also launching a Young Men Leaders Program after seeing such success with their program for women.
This post was written by AAUW College/University Relationships Manager Christine Hernandez.