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Foster Youth Mentor Gains New Appreciation for Student Experience

UC’s Higher Education Mentoring Initiative (HEMI) matches high school students with mentors who can help them reach their goal of post-secondary education - including many of UC’s own faculty and staff.

Date: 12/7/2012 1:00:00 PM
By: Tim Russell
Phone: (513) 556-1330
Take a look around the campus of the University of Cincinnati, and chances are, you’ll find a number of students, faculty and staff who are going the extra mile – either to make their own dreams come true, or to help someone else achieve theirs.

As the program coordinator of UC’s Higher Education Mentoring Initiative* (HEMI), Annie Schellinger sees both ends of the spectrum. Along with a number of other dedicated staff and faculty at CECH, Annie oversees the critical initiative that matches mentors as well as other academic resources with foster children who desire post-secondary education.
HEMI Program Coordinator Image
Annie Schellinger

 “Foster care children face a particularly daunting set of challenges to obtaining higher education,” Schellinger says. “For instance, there isn’t a system in place to tell a student, ‘It’s time to take the ACT. Here’s how to apply for scholarships. This is how to be successful in college.’ So our program helps to give them someone who can guide them in the right direction and combat those barriers.”

Make a gift to HEMI and help strengthen the program today.

And low graduation rates are just one challenge facing foster children, pointing to the immense need for a program that helps make their transition easier. In fact, according to the 2004 Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care:
  • 25 percent of foster youth are incarcerated within the first two years of emancipation;
  • 20 percent struggle with homelessness;
  • And foster youth have disproportionately high rates of early pregnancy, are more prone to sexual and physical victimization, mental illness and substance abuse.
To help create a better environment for success, foster youth in Hamilton County are invited by case workers to participate in HEMI during their junior year of high school. They are matched with a specially trained, adult volunteer who has made a six-year commitment to help guide their youth during this critical time. While mentors come from all walks of life, a number of UC employees have stepped forward to volunteer their time and help assist with guidance and support.

“UC faculty and staff have unique and invaluable knowledge of higher education with an understanding of how to assist and support foster youth in navigating the college experience,” says Schellinger. “Their expertise helps guide and prepare students for post-secondary education. Many have stepped forward and have truly made an impact in the life of a student.”

One such example is Lee Armstrong, who works as an advisor in the International Programs area of the Lindner College of Business. While Armstrong figured that her experience would come in handy when assisting someone apply to college, it wasn’t until she worked with her mentee, Jaliesha, that she realized how challenging the process can be.

“As a staff member that works in a college setting, I felt I had a good connection with students and understood where they were coming from,” Armstrong says. “Being a HEMI mentor made me realize how incomplete of a picture I really had about the college admission and financial aid process.”
Lee and Jaliesha together
Lee and Jaliesha spending time at a Bengals game last year

“Even more than the administrative side of things,” Armstrong continues, “working with Jaliesha brought home how scary it can be to move to school, leave behind friends, and be responsible for your own finances. In all, the experience has given me a better awareness of the obstacles some of our students are facing, and the support they may need to make it to graduation.”

Despite what can be a challenging process, the transition to higher education has been smooth for both parties – thanks to Jaliesha’s determination, as well as Lee’s commitment and support.

“Since being matched with Jaliesha during her junior year of high school, I have watched her gain confidence in herself and in her ability to achieve her dreams,” Armstrong says. “Visiting her on campus recently, it was extremely rewarding to see how excited she was about her classes, life in the dorm, the friends she was making, holding her first paying job, and getting involved with clubs on campus.”

For a relatively new program, HEMI is already proving to be successful and serving as a national model.  So far, 60 students have participated in HEMI, and all have either graduated from or are still in high school, and most have enrolled in post-secondary education.

In Lee’s mind, being a mentor has been a rewarding experience for a number of reasons. And, she’ll be the first say that the real work has been done by Jaliesha throughout the mentoring relationship.

“Jaliesha is very resourceful and extremely smart,” Armstrong says. “In fact, during her senior year of high school, circumstances caused her to move into her own apartment, and I was worried she would lose all discipline and focus on her dreams of higher education. But she proved me wrong, even though she had to walk to school, shop for groceries and take care of herself.”

“She’s an amazing young woman with an incredibly bright future, and I hope in some small way, I contributed to the success she is having today.”

Faculty and staff who are interested in serving as mentors are encouraged to contact Annie Schellinger for more information at 513-556-4368 or

* HEMI is a collaboration between UC’s Partnership for Achieving School Success (PASS), Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Great Oaks Institute of Technology and Career Development, Hamilton County Job and Family Services and the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners.