Since the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) launched the Advancing YU mentorship program in 2021, the program has yielded mentorships and networking opportunities for students completing their final years with LA&PS.
Advancing YU is a unique program that matches select alumni who are achieving success in their chosen fields, with third- and fourth-year Black and/or women students, who have completed a minimum of 54 credits to date, for mentorship and skills development.
The program offers two streams: Advancing Black Students and Advancing Women Students. In the Advancing Black Students stream, participants are noticing the importance of a program that helps redress historical shortcomings in mentorship opportunities. The program celebrates the many successful York University Black alumni and provides them opportunities to meet and invest in the next generation of Black professionals and scholars.
Students are expected to invest 20 hours in the program. In addition to professional coaching, each student receives a $1,000 scholarship. In its pilot year, 138 students and 46 mentors took part in Advancing YU. The Advancing Black Students stream welcomed 78 students and 26 alumni mentors, including David Gbate, a fourth-year bachelor of commerce economics student who joined the program because it was an opportunity to explore professional options for after he completes his degree.
“I found it imperative to best equip myself for the time after university and I felt that this program would help me be more prepared to take on the working world,” says Gbate.
Mentorship, says Gbate, has helped him to envision his career prospects after graduation, as well as connect with a Black professional who provided advice about how to navigate the working world as a Black employee. “You might doubt yourself or limit how big you think or dream because you don’t know if you’re going to attain it. Seeing someone who has actually done it gives you way more confidence in yourself and your skillset,” he says.
Gbate’s mentor, York alumnus Kurankye Sekyi-Otu (BA Hons.’94) is the chief strategy officer at Polar Asset Management Partners Inc. with 25 years experience in asset management and capital markets organizations.
“I entered the business but didn’t have much guidance or mentors, so to give back to what I wish I would have had is great. I think it’s an awesome program,” says Sekyi-Otu. “For various reasons, we are underrepresented in some industries. To the extent that, it is important that someone who looks like these students can provide some guidance in mentorship and serve as an example of what they could become,” adds Sekyi-Otu.
Kaela Tenn, a fifth-year Communication & Media Studies student, joined the program hoping to engage with a professional whose career trajectory she could relate to.
“The idea of being a part of the program in its pilot year was super exciting, but mainly it was the fact that I was getting to connect with somebody who looked like me and that meant that they would have similar experiences and be able to guide me,” says Tenn.
Her mentor – a perfect pairing for Tenn – was York alumna Sherrill Sutherland (BA ‘08), a producer for the daily news podcast, The Decibel at The Globe and Mail. Sutherland has more than 10 years experience in the media and broadcasting industry.
“In a time where leadership is so important to securing job opportunities, particularly racially and culturally sensitive leadership, that students have to have, getting to talk to Sherrill about these things and other things like Black hair and Black professionalism has been helpful,” says Tenn.
Sutherland’s reasons for joining the Advancing Yu program echo Seyki-Otu’s participation in seeking to fill in the gaps for a new generation of students. In her experience, networking is central to changing existing barriers for people of colour. “We don’t always notice in the corporate world how some people are getting higher up and we don’t always realize that they have formed connections that are not always available to Black people and other people of colour. I want to lift people up as much as I can, and I know many of the mentors want to do the same,” says Sutherland.
Beyond serving as a mentor, the program has allowed Sutherland to introspect on her own career. “One of the most surprising things for me, when I met my mentees, was seeing the drive that they have. I lucked out with great mentees, but this experience has given me a push too in my career. To listen to what some of these young women are doing, how they are working, going to school and doing side projects, that for me was really motivating to hear,” adds Sutherland.
To learn more about the benefits of the program, visit the Advancing YU webpage. Application openings for 2022 will be provided here. LA&PS alumni interested in becoming a mentor are encouraged to learn more about the program and how to get involved.