Career Mentorship Program inspires students with learning disabilities

Students with disabilities often face barriers in career planning and professional life that others do not, but through York’s Learning Disability Services (LDS) Career Mentorship Program, hundreds of students with learning disabilities have been inspired to pursue their career dreams. And, they’ve been given the skills, confidence and networks to enhance their success.

Those students who would like to participate in the 2011-2012 Career Mentorship Program must attend an information session today at 5pm or Friday, Sept. 16 at 10am. LDS students can register online through the Learning Disability Services website. The deadline to apply to the Career Mentorship Program is Sept. 19. York students wishing to register with LDS should review the registration information on the LDS website.

“It is so important for universities to have these extracurricular opportunities and services for students, because it is these little things that make a huge difference,” says mentorship student Yasmine Behiry. “To be able to find confidence, support, and community connections related to your field of study is an experience that no lecture can bring. It is really the secret to helping students succeed.”

Mentors often report that one of the most exciting aspects of the program is the real, individual and measurable impact that they have on the lives of the students. “The most rewarding aspect for me is to meet with students both individually and in a group,” says Rodger Harding, a leader in business Mentor Rodger Harding of Harding International & Associates Inc.communication and career development. “Working with someone who wants to be who they truly are is really rewarding and I find it fun.”

Left: Mentor Rodger Harding of Harding International & Associates Inc.

Since its launch as a pilot project in 1985, the Career Mentorship Program has been an important bridge between York students with learning disabilities and the professional workforce. Students receive valuable guidance from their mentors about entering their chosen profession. The success of the program has been in large part due to the volunteer mentors who give generously of their time. Mentors come from a variety of industries, selected according to student interest. For example, students have requested mentors knowledgeable about career paths in human resources, the entertainment industry, design, media, education, public policy, social work, law, public relations, medicine, mental health and business. Mentors have come from small boutique businesses and government, as well as large corporations.

Students and mentors get together individually a minimum of six times per academic year. During these one-on-one meetings, usually at the employer’s worksite, mentors help inform students about career directions by sharing their knowledge, contacts and work experience. In addition, the program offers larger group meetings, which brings together all mentors and students to discuss their experiences and explore larger issues related to disability and the workplace, such as disability disclosure and accommodation.

“A favourite part of the mentorship program is the career group workshops with fellow [participants]. We all meet to discuss approaches to navigating your career and share career successes,” says Sarah Hamilton, a student who participated in last year’s program. The group meetings allow students and mentors to come together to share multiple perspectives and provide a supportive learning community in which questions and concerns can be explored.

To participate in the mentorship program, LDS students must submit an online application. This questionnaire enquires about the type of mentor the student desires, mentorship program expectations, personal career goals and thoughts about how having a learning disability helps and hinders career development. “My task is to go out into the community and find a unique mentor that will meet each student’s needs based on their application,” says Jayne Greene-BlaJayne Green-Blackck, mentorship program coordinator, LDS.

Right: Jayne Green-Black

The program sees a high percentage of returning mentors and students each year, which speaks to the mutual benefits of the program. As much as students clarify their career objectives, they also offer mentors a chance to learn first-hand about persons with learning disabilities.

“Coming into the program in 2004, I really had no idea about learning disabilities. So, [my participation] gave mePat Harper great information about learning disabilities and the impact of those disabilities in a work environment,” says former mentor Pat Harper, a manager of employee learning at IBM.

Left: Pat Harper

Those interested in mentoring can fill in a mentor application form online. To learn more about the Learning Disabilities Career Mentorship Program, visit the Career Mentorship Program website or contact Greene-Black at