StudentMentor Matches Mentors and Protégés Online

3/16/11Follow @xconomy

[Editor's note: due to an editing oversight, this story was originally published under the byline Wade Roush. It was actually written by freelance contributor Elise Craig. Sorry Elise!!]

When StudentMentor.org co-founders Ashkon Jafari and Stephanie Bravo were in college, they felt lost. Bravo, a first-generation college student, had her sights set on medical school, but wasn’t sure what classes and extracurriculars she needed to get there. Jafari had switched his major twice, and didn’t know what career path to take. Both were saved by the guidance of mentors—in Bravo’s case, a med student she was paired with through a local program, and in Jafari’s, a higher-up at his internship. “We looked around and saw a lot of our classmates and friends didn’t have this guidance,” Jafari says. “There was no sort of program. We saw this huge need.”

Last April, Jafari and Bravo founded StudentMentor.org, a free networking site based in San Francisco that links college students with older mentors. To get involved, students can go onto the site and create profiles detailing where they are in school and what kind of advice they need. They can also choose how much time they want to dedicate to the program, from a week to three months, with most selecting a two-month mentorship. Mentors fill in the jobs they’ve held, what industry they have expertise in, and how many years they’ve been working in specific jobs. For Bravo, who serves as president of the nonprofit, this feature helps fill in the gaps left by many existing mentorship programs. “Students can reach out to mentors in professional fields that schools may not have any connections to,” she says.

Once the profiles are filled out, StudentMentor’s Web platform provides a list of matches so that both students and mentors can check out potential profiles and choose the best fit. Once a request is put in, both parties have to accept it. “We want to make sure it’s a good match for both people,” says executive director Jafari. If for some reason the pair doesn’t click, either party can end the relationship, and look for a new match.

When both parties have accepted, students and mentors can start chatting through the site’s online messaging platform, which Jafari says is structured much like Facebook. Users receive email alerts when they get new messages on the system. According to Jafari, 90 percent of the pairs use it, though they may also choose to chat on the phone or meet in person. However, StudentMentor does not give out contact information beyond the messaging platform, so users can decide for themselves if they want to take the mentorship offline.

Like online dating sites, StudentMentor is setting up two strangers to start a relationship—-albeit a platonic one—so Bravo and Jafari had to make sure to put safety measures in place. All users must be over 18, and StudentMentor uses cookies to make sure that a user who has been denied access because of age can’t go back and re-register with another birth date. They recommend that all meetings between mentors and their protégés take place in public places. The terms of use prohibit felons and sex offenders, and by accepting them, all users give the organization the right to conduct a background check. And, Bravo says, both students and mentors can contact the organization and report abuses. Since the site went live at the end of September, Bravo and Jafari have gotten no reports of abuse, and have not had to conduct any background checks

So far, the site has already attracted approximately 950 mentors and 450 students, and 94 percent of them have been matched. “We believed it’s harder to get mentors,” Jafari says, “so we did a lot of outreach.” Now the cofounders are focusing on … Next Page »

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