Mentorship is a key factor in success for newcomer youth.
That’s the basis of Pathways to Success, a project created by Dr. Jennifer Selby, a religious studies professor in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS), and Mohammad Ali Bakhshi, a master’s of education student at Memorial.
A pilot project with Holy Heart of Mary High School in St. John’s and funded by the Fulbright Foundation and Memorial’s Office of Public Engagement, the project was partly inspired by the experiences of Remzi Cej, an HSS alumnus and director of the province’s Office of Immigration and Multiculturalism in the Department of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour.
“Remzi told me that part of the key to his own success was informal mentoring,” said Dr. Selby, who, along with Mr. Cej, is one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s former Fulbright scholars.
Their idea was to formalize the mentoring process and pair 20 students from Holy Heart with local mentors with backgrounds relevant to the students’ career and education preferences, as well as hold a number of retreats to bolster their skills and facilitate job options.
Dr. Selby acted as project director and was able to hire Mr. Bakhshi to act as co-ordinator, thanks to the support of Memorial’s Office of Public Engagement.
Mr. Bakhshi came to St. John’s in May 2016 from Kabul, Afghanistan, after working as the program co-ordinator for a national project on teacher education that was sponsored by the Canadian embassy.
One of the advisors working on the project was from Newfoundland and Labrador, which is how Mr. Bakhshi first learned of Memorial University. Inspired by this connection, in the spring of 2016 he enrolled in his graduate program, focusing on educational leadership.
“We had amazing applicants, but we could only hire one person and Ali had the ideal qualifications for the job,” said Dr. Selby, who says that an added benefit of the project for both her and Mr. Bakhshi have been the local connections they’ve made.
Among those connections are lawyer Gobhina Nagarajah, whose parents originally immigrated to Canada from Sri Lanka.
“Having confident, connected and well-settled newcomers in the province can only be enriching to everyone else who lives here.”
She was paired with student Bwisengo Mboko, who arrived in St. John’s a year ago.
“I think the program is a great way to connect members of the community and to give immigrant youth guidance and confidence about their futures,” said Ms. Nagarajah.
“Knowing what resources are available to you can be really difficult sometimes, and I think this program helps bridge that gap. Having confident, connected and well-settled newcomers in the province can only be enriching to everyone else who lives here. Hopefully, it will help direct our province towards a much-needed shift in awareness and towards true inclusivity.”
Ms. Nagarajah intends to stay in touch with her mentee and to continue to be a resource.
For his part, Mr. Mboko, who was born in a refugee camp in Tanzania, is hugely enthusiastic about the program.
“Pathways to Success was a true pathway for me. It helped me understand how things work in Canada and gave me connections with wonderful people,” he said.
“My mentor Gobhina is a lawyer — being close with a smart person makes you smart, as well. She has done wonderful things in schools, at home and in communities and I hope to do the same. English as a second language students need this program in the future.”
Social capital: Developing and navigating
Twenty students in Grades 11 and 12, from home countries including Syria, Congo, Eritrea, Nepal, Burundi and Ethiopia, were admitted to the pilot project which, besides matching students to mentors, consisted of three one-day workshops.
Subjects included creating resumés, managing social media channels and bridging cultural differences. The final step in the process was shopping for job interview outfits for each student.
Dr. Selby and Mr. Bakhshi say that the overall aim of the program is to help students develop and navigate social capital — the networks of relationships among people who live in a particular society.
“From my point of view, the greatest impact for these students is getting information on careers: what are the aspects of different careers, what sorts of subjects they need to master and what are the job prospects,” said Mr. Bakhshi, who adds that as a result of the program, after talking with their mentors and gaining a better understanding of the program requirements and the job market, students were able to make informed decisions.
Some students changed their minds about a particular field of study that they were considering before participating in the project, while others are continuing to pursue their previously chosen fields and careers.
Dr. Selby cites the program’s emphasis on the importance of volunteering and how it can serve as a springboard for career and personal advancement.
Both hope the pilot project turns into a permanent program run by a local not-for-profit organization.