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Mentors offer gift of guidance to students

Michael Johns’ phone frequently lights up with GroupMe texts from former Olive-Harvey College students. His first question: How are your grades?

Johns, mentoring coordinator at the South Side college, directs D.R.E.A.M. and Men of Distinction mentorship programs. Directing Results through Educational Academic Mentoring (D.R.E.A.M) was launched in 2007.

This school year there are about 27 student-faculty matches.

“I have a nice amount of faculty members involved,” Johns said. “A lot of times, it’s students in their classes, so for them to have that connection, is really great.”

To join the D.R.E.A.M. program, students fill out an application and attend a meet-and-greet with faculty members, who volunteer for the program. Students pick the top three mentors they are interested in, and Johns pairs a student and faculty member.

Mentor Tyanna McCann and Je’Taun Linn, her mentee, were informally matched.

“We went on a historically black college tour this last spring, and Je’Taun was one of the students who was there and Michael was one of the chaperones,” McCann said. “In the moment, I was walking by them, and he stopped me and said, ‘I think you would be a great mentor for Je’Taun,’ and I accepted.”

McCann and Linn, 25, formed a relationship that goes beyond tutoring and advice on what classes to take.

McCann said they see each other about four times each week, even talking about family and friends. Although Linn is set to graduate from Olive-Harvey and plans to attend Roosevelt University for communications, they plan to stay in touch.

“I was trying to find my way, and I really needed someone to help pull be out of my shell,” Linn said. “The mentorship is not just academics. I do look at her as family now.”

This is not to say that the program is perfect — the initiative to connect has to come from both sides, McCann said. She tried to mentor another student, but because of financial difficulties and scheduling problems, they never managed to meet, she said.

Olive-Harvey, which sits in a struggling neighborhood with low-income residents, is not the only one of the City Colleges of Chicago with a mentorship program. A general service called Mentor Connection matches faculty mentors with students across the city college system.

The Men of Distinction program, Johns’ other project, attempts to guide black males with the help of a mentor, he said. The program started at Olive-Harvey two years ago.
“If you look at the national statistics, [black males] tend to fall behind more than their female counterparts,” Johns said.

This is one in a series of articles being produced through a partnership between the Chicago Sun-Times and the Illinois Mentoring Partnership. Elizabeth Earl, the author of this story, is a Columbia College student.