Seeking a better future: from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago
What inspired MENTEE?
Why immigration and refugees, especially with immigration being such a hot button topic now in the U.S.?
When I was developing my proposal to apply for the Fulbright-Schuman Scholar award, I knew immediately I wanted to focus on people who are not treated fairly and equitably by society. So MENTEE focuses on immigrants and refugees, and those who are low-income. We need to support these communities from the ground up. MENTEE can provide students with services and knowledge that help address their challenges and give them a pathway to success.
What do you hope students gain from being involved in MENTEE?
MENTEE is meant to help our students want to stay in high school by giving them the ability to try different jobs on for size through our cross-sector job shadows and other work experiences, while learning more about themselves. We hope the students will look beyond graduation to their post-secondary future with a strong network of supporters surrounding them. My goal is to look at all of the students' needs and see how I can make sure they are looked after either directly or indirectly by my organization and my partnerships. The hope of MENTEE is that, as a result of going through the program, students will be more confident, successful adults with new access and means to contribute to society.
What’s the significance of the MENTEE logo and what does it mean to you?
I am a big believer in supporting the richness of diverse cultures within our community. The adinkra symbol of MENTEE reflects the respect for diversity and the pursuit of knowledge and learning throughout life. MENTEE is made to reinforce that pursuit of knowledge, and to celebrate the richness of the languages and cultures the students come here with. We need to let all new students know they welcome. They can learn English, fit in at their school, and also retain their own cultural identity. The adinkra reflects all this; it's a celebration of culture.
What was your proudest or happiness moment with MENTEE?
As a pilot year program, there have been many ups and downs as I've worked to develop and grow MENTEE. Currently, I work with three Chicago public schools and have teacher liaisons at each school who represent MENTEE and work with students. One of my happiest moments was when one of the liaisons from Mather High School called me and said, “Please Letitia, I have so many students who want to be a part of MENTEE, can we just add a few more to the list?” It made me feel so good about all I was doing.
How has your experience at Loyola influenced you?
Years ago, when I was doing my MA in political science, Claudio Katz, the department chair at the time, was very much a mentor to me. In providing guidance, he often shared his personal stories and thoughts. One of our conversations was about my future choices, and he recommended that I should teach in secondary education. I didn't fully see that for myself, but that conversation stayed with me and I revisited it often. When I finally realized I was searching for ways to make a difference, I knew Professor Katz was right. Not only did I take his advice, I convinced my husband to do the same. He left finance, I left Harvard, and we began our journey into education. So yes, Loyola and Professor Katz left an incredible mark on my life.