Opening Doors through Mentoring: One Programs Experiences Using the Internet

Article excerpt

(This article is based on the DO-IT presentation at the Technology and persons with Disabilities Conference 1999.)

Most of us can think of people in our lives, more experienced than ourselves, who have supplied information, offered advice, presented a challenge, initiated friendship, or simply expressed an interest in our development as a person. Without their intervention we may have remained on the same path, perhaps continuing a horizontal progression through our academic, career, or personal lives.

The term "mentor" has its origin in Homer's Odyssey, in which a man named Mentor was given the responsibility to educate the son of Odysseus. "Protege" refers to the person who is the focus of the mentor. Today, mentoring is associated with a variety of activities including teaching, counseling, sponsoring, role modeling, job shadowing, academic and career guidance, and networking.

Mentoring in DO-IT

Mentors are valuable resources to their proteges in project DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology). DO-IT, primarily funded by the National Science Foundation and the State of Washington, serves to help young people with disabilities successfully transition to challenging academic programs and careers, including science, engineering, mathematics, and technology. Most DO-IT Mentors are college students, faculty, practicing engineers, scientists, or other professionals who have disabilities. Proteges are high school students who are making plans for post-secondary education and employment. They all have disabilities including vision, hearing, mobility, and health impairments, and specific learning disabilities. Frequent electronic communications and personal contacts bring DO-IT proteges and mentors together to facilitate academic, career, and personal achievements. New mentors are given tips for getting started. They include:

* Get to know each protege. What are his/her personal interests? Academic interests? Career interests?

* Introduce yourself. Share your personal interests, hobbies, academic interests, career path.

* Explore interests with proteges by asking questions, promoting discussion, pointing to Internet and other resources.

* Encourage participation in DO-IT activities and try to attend activities when possible. Mentor-protege relationships are strengthened through face-to-face contact!

* Facilitate contact between students and people with shared interests or resources (e.g., professors, professionals, service providers, friends).

Introducing proteges to mentors with similar disabilities is a strength of the DO-IT program. As reported by one protege she had never met an adult with a hearing impairment like hers before getting involved in DO-IT: "But when I met him, I was so surprised how he had such a normal life, and he had a family, and he worked with people who had normal hearing. So he made me feel a lot better about my future."

Participants learn strategies for success in academics and employment. Mentors provide direction and motivation, instill values, promote professionalism, and help proteges develop leadership skills. As one Scholar noted, "It feels so nice to know that there are adults with disabilities or who know a lot about disabilities, because I think that people who are about to go to college or start their adult life can learn a lot from mentors ..." As participants move from high school to college and careers they too become mentors, sharing their experiences with younger participants.

There are probably as many mentoring styles as there are personality types and no one can be everything to one person. Each DO-IT participant benefits from contact with several mentors.

Most mentoring in DO-IT takes place via the Internet. Through electronic communications and projects using the Internet, mentors promote personal, academic, and career success. …