Alessandro Rivera and Jeremiah Dawkins come from two different worlds. But they have a special bond.
They both love sports, go to the gym and share a faith in Jesus. And their favorite Marvel character is Spider-Man.
Although they share many interests, Rivera is a University of Miami sophomore and Dawkins is a senior at Booker T. Washington Senior High School.
They became friends, as well as mentor and mentee, through a program called Inspire U. Sponsored by the UM School of Education and Human Development, the program brings together mostly first generation high school students with UM students that are Hammond Scholars. The Hammond Scholarship is given to diverse high school seniors who have demonstrated academic excellence and who intend to continue their academic pursuits through graduate education.
“I have been in this program for two years and I think it is amazing,” said Dawkins, who grew up in Overtown and plans to be the first one in his family to go to college. “I have learned so much about college and how to apply and what I must show to demonstrate that I am a well-rounded individual.”
He is also grateful for the advice and friendship he has developed with Rivera. “We started clicking and I like his energy,” he said.
Rivera wants Dawkins to apply to UM and he plans to support him through the process and beyond. “I believe Jeremiah is going to be a great fit and next year he will be a mentor,” Rivera said.
In its seventh year, the program has served about 350 high school students and the same number of mentors. Ninety percent of last year’s high school participants went to college, said Wendy Cavendish, faculty director of Inspire U Academy, professor in residence at Booker T. Washington Senior High School and an associate professor in the Department of Teaching & Learning at SEHD.
“The program really is beneficial to both mentors and mentees because they develop leadership skills and important networking mechanisms that support them in college and beyond,” said Cavendish.
The mentors and mentees meet about once a month at UM and participate in workshops on how to prepare to take ACT and SAT tests, how to apply to college, obtain scholarships and financial aid, and how to write a college essay and other items. The program also teaches the students how to negotiate college life, balance their schedule, develop study habits and even keep track of their finances.
Last Saturday, the group met at the Mahoney Pearson Residential College on the UM Coral Gables campus. Rivera was one of the presenters and he began his talk by encouraging students to look beyond the results of standardized tests.
“SAT is not my friend,” Rivera, who came from Puerto Rico, told the group. “But I am here. If you don’t get 1300 or 1400 don’t stress out because it is not the end of the world. Make sure your grades are okay, make sure you are involved.
“What you do outside the classroom is important,” he said. ”How do you impact the community (is important). Students are much more than just a number.”
For Deborah Adeyemi, a UM senior and mentor, and Krystynah Sanders, her mentee who is a senior at Booker T., their relationship is mostly over texts. They keep in touch every week and talk about how to balance study with extracurricular activities.
“Deb is very well rounded and she balances a lot of things,” said Sanders. “So I am learning from her.”
One of the most valuable lessons the students learn is that they are never alone in their search for higher education.
“We offer them a community of support,” said Asha Wedemier-Allan, one of the mentors. “We are almost like family.”