Mark Samburg is a 2007 graduate of Brandeis University and received his J.D. in 2010 from Harvard University. Today, he is an attorney in Washington, D.C. In 2016, Mark was matched with Kane Minor, a 2015 graduate of KIPP DC College Prep and current sophomore at Albright College. Still in his first year of mentoring, we caught up with Mark as he shared how he has grown and learned from Kane.
Before joining CPE, I’ve never really served as a formal mentor before. I’ve taught, but a one-on-one mentorship relationship is enormously different from being a teacher to a large group (or even a small one). So I didn’t necessarily know what to expect, but here’s something I’ve learned:
Anyone can be a mentor.
Actually, chances are, even if you’re not participating in a formal mentorship program like CPE, you’re already a mentor. It’s not that mentoring “doesn’t take much,” it’s that everyone has what it takes. Can you help someone solve problems they’re facing? Can you offer lessons you’ve learned from your own experiences? Can you sometimes just offer a sympathetic ear? If you said “yes” to any of those, you can be a mentor.
My mentee is an incredible young man—I’ve actually remarked to a few folks that I’m not sure he needs a mentor (though I’m very happy to have the chance to serve as his mentor!). He’s taught me how to use Snapchat, and I’ve helped him set up a LinkedIn profile. He’s quick tell me that I’m wearing “Dad jeans,” and I’ve offered to buy him a whole new wardrobe if he lets me pick the clothes (he declined). I think these are emblematic of the most important thing I can offer him—a relationship that isn’t strained or formal. Nobody wants to trust someone they don’t like, and nobody wants to seek advice or guidance from someone they don’t trust. The convenient thing is that, in his case, I’ve built a relationship because I genuinely like him and enjoy interacting with him—that certainly makes things a lot easier!
Since he’s been my mentee, he’s also changed his major to chemistry, and I still don’t understand why vinegar and baking soda will make a foamy volcano-like eruption. He recently told me about a concept that had given him particular difficulty on a chemistry midterm; if it only gave him difficulty, I’m very impressed, because I still don’t understand what the concept even describes. But that’s OK—I’m a mentor, not a tutor. I didn’t take chemistry, but I did take other (probably easier) classes, and I remember things that helped me focus, helped me study, or helped me get past academic setbacks. And I was 19 once, and dealt with all the social and family challenges of being at that weird liminal age. When I agreed to mentor a college student, I was worried that I wouldn’t have anything useful to offer—that I wouldn’t bring any expertise or useful experience to the table. But that’s nonsense. We’ve all had experiences, worked through situations, or overcome challenges that someone else is just about to face. Even if your own experiences weren’t successful, you can still share the lessons you learned, even if those lessons all boil down to “don’t do what I did!”
And the rewards of mentoring are enormous. Besides learning how to use Snapchat, downloading a competitive name-that-tune app at which my mentee is yet to beat me, and getting some fashion advice, I’ve gotten to know a guy who’s an absolute delight to know. And he’s hopefully had the chance to gain something from being able to ask me for guidance, from learning from my mistakes, or from having access to a different perspective.