From Mentee to Mentor

For Cassidy Korpela ’19, college wasn’t the end of her journey with mentorship. It was the beginning.

Korpela transferred to Alverno after taking her general education courses at a two-year institution. Not only did Alverno’s small class sizes and focus on empowering women appeal to her, but she also trusted the recommendation of her aunt, an Alverno alumna.

It was at Alverno that Korpela was introduced to the impact of mentorship, via social work professor Crystal Aschenbrener. Korpela joined Aschenbrener and other students on a trip to South Dakota in connection with the Today and Beyond mentorship program, which Aschenbrener created to facilitate relationships between college students and youth in Native and indigenous communities. During a whirlwind trip, Korpela and her peers not only bonded with the youth but also helped them start preparing for high school, college and careers.

“The kids I met there will always have this very special place in my heart. That trip was my light bulb – I realized that I have to work with kids,” she says.

Korpela has followed her dream to her current role of in-house program coordinator for PEARLS for Teen Girls, a leadership development program for girls in grades 5 through 12. Korpela is based out of K-8 charter school Milwaukee Scholars, allowing her to provide support to the girls throughout the school week.

“We focus on a variety of areas in our curriculum: loving ourselves, building healthy relationships with others, college/career, and community service,” she says. “We provide a safe space for girls to come as they are but also to focus on becoming their best selves.”

To Korpela, mentorship isn’t one-sided. “I’m always learning just as much from a mentee as they’re learning from me,” she says.

That means bringing humility and openness to the relationship. “To build trust, you can’t ask youth or mentees anything that you’re not willing to share or do. You may need to be the first person to open up. On top of that, own that you don’t know everything.”

What mentorship looks like is unique to each relationship, not only in what mentors and mentees bring to the table but also in what they need from each other. Some honest self-assessment – which both Alverno and PEARLS teach – is necessary. “Self-awareness is key – knowing where your strengths are and what you need to improve,” she says.

Korpela encourages mentors to not get discouraged if they don’t see certain outcomes. Nor should they underestimate their impact. “Something I’ve learned at PEARLS is that it’s okay to accept that you might be planting seeds,” she says. “You don’t always know the impact you’re having on someone.”

Korpela appreciates the many mentors she has been able to call upon during her life, including Alverno faculty. Among those who made an impact? Susana Perez-Guijo, assistant professor of Spanish.

“I chose a Spanish minor because I am passionate about working in diverse and inclusive environments,” Korpela states. “Along with the Spanish language, Susana also incorporated justice, culture, and community in her class. She’s someone I strive to be like in my role as a mentor today. She’s relatable, charismatic and genuinely cares.”

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