I don’t believe that in this day and age there’s anybody anywhere that would disqualify the value of a mentor in the professional or personal life. When I was first introduced to the concept of a mentor I was in high school and I remember thinking that my life would fall apart if I did not find myself a mentor immediately! Later on, after high school and during my college years, I was heavily involved in my church and the mentor -talk was popping up every so often but I don’t remember intentionally doing anything about it.
However, when I got my first “proper” job at an international bank I was sure that I wanted to be as successful as possible in that institution and I needed to find myself a mentor fast. I remember having a conversation with one of the ladies in the management committee who took me through the possible mentors in the bank based on my interests and what I hoped to do then. I set up a meeting and this particular lady was so welcoming and we had a great relationship for a couple of years before my interests began to shift and the mentorship was no longer beneficial. But, she was very instrumental in introducing me to the bank and showing me how a huge and complex organization like that worked as well as shaping my journey in it.
When I first got the email from the Program of African Studies that I had been matched with a mentor for the period of time that I would be at Northwestern for the Mandela Washington Fellowship, I was curious to see, know and interact with her. She did not disappoint. Sharnell Curtis-Martin has extensive experience in banking and in her current role she spends a good amount of time training the Chicago communities on business and personal financial literacy.
Sharnell took me out for lunch at Taste 222 in downtown Chicago where we were able to have our first extensive conversation after we were first introduced to each other earlier in the week. This particular mentorship was fascinating to me because of its cross-cultural nature. I was not sure if we’d be able to benefit from each other especially professionally. That day we talked more about our professional journeys and got to know each other more personally -as it turns out we had much more in common than we thought. She was valuable in giving me information about Chicago and the kind of events I could try out while I was in the city.
The highlight for me though was when I joined her as she delivered a financial literacy presentation at a community center to a group of 14-24 year-olds on business finance and the basics of small business ownership. This was particularly a great and eye-opening experience for me because the fellowship and my experience at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management have helped me create a business model to offer financial literacy education targeting a similar age group.
Despite my initial fears and nerves, the connection I was able to make with Sharnell was extremely beneficial and one that I intend to keep as long as possible. This is one of those unquantifiable gifts that Mandela Washington Fellowship offers.