Creating a Picture of Success

by Victor Rivero

AFTER 28 YEARS OF TEACHING, CATHEY CAREY has never had it so fun. But when students are obtaining remarkable, tangible improvements in their lives, that’s to be expected. 

In her Career Exploration class at Airline High School in Bossier Parish Schools, Bossier City, Louisiana, Cathey is creating a safe space within which her students can discover for themselves what their future paths might be. With help from the International Telementor Program, the experience has taken her students from average, well-intentioned teens with vague hopes about their future—to confident, competent individuals on their way to achieving their dreams on a very practical level.

Explosive Results

For 90 minutes a day, five days a week, Cathey Carey’s students came together for a class like no other; on any given day, they may have been completing part of a project, sharing what progress they made with each of their mentors, or asking for feedback, constructive criticism or receiving praise for a job well done. Given recommendations, students would go back to their work, make adjustments and send what they’d done back to their mentor. “They’d collaborate as they built their portfolio. I wasn’t lecturing, and they were doing. It was very successful,” says Cathey. Granted, the teacher’s role is vital but, says Cathey, “There is just something about working with a professional adult besides me. I’m like mama. They like what I have to say and I have positive input, but they like—and it’s more powerful coming from—the outside adult.”

Before the project commenced, one particular student, Michelle, was very certain of everything. “She knew she was going to be a lawyer, what college she wanted—she knew everything,” says Cathey.

Great to be certain, but this veteran teacher had seen it before: a student who selects and then holds onto an idea, fixing on it and merely repeating it when asked what they want to do or be in the future—but never really delving into it to any degree so as to understand what it’s truly all about.

Consequently, as the project got underway, the changes were immediate. Cathey explains:

“We got to doing our research and it was then that she made a discovery. She didn’t want to be a lawyer. In fact, she felt she was more suited for criminal justice and wants to be a criminal investigator.”

Like a powder trail to a keg, Michelle had struck upon her true purpose and simply ignited a straight line to her dreams—with explosive results. Her production, and subsequently her morale, shot way up.

“She’s become very excited, made contacts with the local law agencies here, will do interviews to gather further information, she’s completing projects and made contacts with the people at the community college,” says Cathey. “She is getting everything lined up and geared to go toward that direction (of criminal investigator). She’s even volunteered from our class and is visiting the sheriff’s station, working at the front desk on a volunteer basis.”

The research, and communicating with her mentor, Rachel McClary—made the difference.

“Michelle likes to solve things, to find the answer, and to help people,” says Cathey. “Rather than sitting at a desk doing research and then defending and representing people, she really wanted to get out there and do something more hands-on. She had never considered that before. Some of these students have told themselves, ‘This is what I’m going to do’—but haven’t put a plan of action in motion. They’re just saying it. She actually has a plan.”

In communicating with her mentor, Michelle tapped into a connection her mentor had—her husband’s best friend was a criminal investigator. With her mentor’s help, Michelle created interview questions for the criminal investigator in her area. Her mentor also knew someone who was a dispatcher, and Michelle got some feedback from that person as well.

“This just gives her more insight from not just a textbook, but from people doing what she wants to do,” says Cathey.

Dressing the Part

The experience that is Cathey Carey’s class involves meeting once a week at the local community college. For the project Michelle and the other students were involved in, a guest speaker paid a visit.

The director of Dress for Success, a nonprofit organization contacted through Volunteers of America, advised Cathey’s student

s on “how to dress for an interview, how not to dress, what says you’re confident, what the different colors, prints, types of shoes, makeup is; how you present yourself and what impression you are making, and what’s appropriate,” says Cathey. An invitation was extended to visit the Dress for Success boutique, where the students received not only a free fitting, but free interview suits as well.

“They actually got two each,” raves Cathey. “It was so much fun and made my students feel so special. They got shoes, a handbag, all that type of stuff so that they were each dressed successfully.” When they presented their completed projects to the group at the community college, “They looked beautiful, professional and competent,” says Cathey.

Before, “They weren’t really focused. You’re going to feel confident when you know what you’re wanting to do and where you’re going,” Cathey says. “The clothes just helped give them an air of confidence. They looked so poised and professional standing there speaking. They were no longer nervous high school students. I was very proud of them. You should have seen how they held themselves. They knew they looked confident.”

The students sent photos to their mentors and got feedback. With their mentor’s help, the students collected information for a portfolio and powerpoint poster, collaborating as they went. Michelle’s mentor was certain that she would do a good job and that she would make a good impression in any interview.

All in All

“It was another successful project,” Cathey says. “I definitely want to do this again with some other students. It has been very successful. I love the telementor project. I enjoyed seeing and was very proud of how the students had their plans.” When Cathey’s class met at the community college, another teacher, Kathy Doyle, was also doing the same project with her class. “That was interesting, too, because we could share what each student was doing, what the mentors were telling them and what they were learning about the career they were researching.”

The energy and support gener

ated in that environment was unprecedented. “These two classes really bonded,” says Cathey. “They forged friendships, exchanged numbers—it was mostly females—only one male. Poor, poor guy! But they all bonded and though they were from different schools and never would have met—they became great friends and encouraged each other.”

As a high school teacher, Cathey says her entire Career Exploration class was centered around the telementor project. Everything from the research to the interaction with mentors was broken down into easily doable steps, and the mentors all had copies of the syllabus, Cathey explains. “They knew what our objectives were and what they were supposed to be working on each step of the way. Sometimes I communicated back and forth with the mentors as well.”

For those readers curious about creating the same or a similar project, Cathey had this to say: “I would recommend you look into it. It’s very hands-on. The students were very motivated. I’m not standing up lecturing, I’m walking around talking. We’re collaborating, and I’m merely guiding the students. The class flew by. There’s no boredom. It was something they were excited about—they would rush to check their messages from their mentors—and even after it’s done, they are still excited by what they learned and how they grew.” ◼

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Amazing Stories of Transformed Teens

MENTORING GEMS | by Zac Burson

A NUMBER OF THE FEATURED STUDENTS IN this issue of Telementor have developed career and education plans over multiple school years with the aid of multiple mentors. Ideally, all ITP students would receive the same support as Cathey’s student Emma who needs to collaborate with people in the arts community and Joan’s student Mitchell who benefits from collaborating with software development experience. Emma and Mitchell benefit from the different perspectives of adults working in a variety of professions. They’re ready to continue collaborating.

In fact, self-directed students who recognize the need to collaborate seek out increasingly complex tasks to accomplish. The community of learners that they join will have specialized knowledge critical to their success. The enhanced rigor of their thinking creates a demand for the formation of new mentor/protégé relationships. I often tell my students (only half jokingly) that if I can understand their independent research work, then it’s not sophisticated enough.

A new version of the Bloom’s Taxonomy of Thinking is out, and where “evaluation” once sat at the apex, “creation” now tops all. In this new paradigm, “creation” subsumes all of the other types of thinking—recall, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. To create, therefore, is to build something new upon a platform of sound thinking and experience.

The action plans that ITP students form are dynamic documents that synthesize experience and spark new action. In the most interesting manifestations of student self-direction, new thoughts come forth; new networks are created; new actions are taken to address problems by way of new solutions. So really, these multiple iterations of exploration, planning, and acting should lead to increasingly complex “creating” if the young person is to appropriately develop his or her gifts.

Emma, by pursuing her own interests in art as a career, is helping us to create a new relationship with the Bossier Arts Council as she seeks to lend her talents to the work of this nonprofit. She is creating a new opportunity for herself and for those who come after her.


I was very fortunate this week to spend two days with students at Louisiana State University where my daughter and 43 other students from around the state shared their research in the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium.

What was most impressive about this group of students was that they had all had the benefit of working with mentors of exceptional expertise in fields of interest to the students. Part of the program consisted of top researchers, professors and skilled researchers in the sciences.

We saw ice from Antarctica and researchers from Germany and India. They represented many different scientific disciplines. Young undergraduate researchers spoke with pride about their summer research experiences in some of the top institutions in the US and around the world. In fact, one young researcher had just returned from an expedition to Antarctica. Each spoke to their evolving understanding of the processes and the topics of research in which they now participated.

Two of the student participants, now high school seniors, were among our first students teamed with ITP mentors in independent science research projects in 2006.

During her freshman year, Scarlett Gray, an empiricist and a skeptic, went to the regional science fair with a project that disproved horoscopes.

Three years later, she is studying virology, in a research lab examining integrin signaling in monocyte motility in Human Cytomegalovirus. Scarlett shared that, in her freshman year, she was very reluctant to get any kind of support from a mentor; three years later she is working on a lab team with a highly respected lead researcher.

When in ninth grade, Scarlett’s classmate, Stephanie Axelson, collaborated quite effectively to study with HP mentor Julie Wilker how to prevent the “skin rips” that occur when gymnasts practice on the high bar and rings.

The sound research methodology and the openness to collaboration that Stephanie demonstrated back in the ninth grade is amplified tenfold as she now looks at mechanisms affecting DNA transcription of tumor suppressor genes in a cancer research lab.

While I listened to Scarlett and Stephanie present on Friday, I marveled at the sophistication of their thinking. I can’t say that I caught everything, and that impressed me.


We remain focused on providing multi-year support for ITP students as they develop and act on their action plans. With such experiences, students become more likely to view collaboration with mentors as critically important to the pursuit of individual goals.

Partnering with ITP to promote academic rigor and innovative thinking in STEM fields, MasterCard and The Merck Institute for Science Education will support the independent science research efforts of students at Parkway High school this year and next. Ideally, students will move from career exploration and education planning projects and action plans that will spark original academic research in rigorous academic areas.

For example, students interested in topics in computer science may be inspired to do student research in those fields.

Ideally, students doing research in a field will be inspired to get help from mentors belonging to communities of learners that are part of our work. Students are then inspired to connect with people in the local community and within other communities of learners.

Students will ply their talents to directly affect issues with which professional adults already wrestle, and collaborate with their more experienced colleagues to create new opportunities and tackle new and as yet unforeseen challenges.

Because I spend each day with adults and students open to such behavior, I am confident that ITP will lead the way in this work. We remain focused on providing multi-year support for ITP students as they develop and act on action plans.

With such experiences, students become more likely to view collaboration with mentors as critically important to the pursuit of individual goals. As students move through high school and increase their capacity to tackle increasingly complex issues with discipline and creativity, ITP mentors will be there with them.


Zac Burson is the Program Coordinator for the International Telementor Program and a teacher at Bossier Schools in Louisiana. Write to:

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3 Questions All Students Must Answer Before Graduating

FROM THE FOUNDER | by David Neils

HERE ARE THREE broad questions that all students should be able to answer before they graduate. I’ve included key sub questions for each broad area. I would strongly recommend projects where the results are tangible and where they help meet clearly delineated goals. Avoid projects that simply expose students to, for example, a college campus—with the hope that they catch the “practical knowledge” virus. We need to move way beyond exposure activities. Our students need and deserve a lot more.

1. What are my interests and natural abilities?

Additional Questions:
1. What do others say about me? What am I good at?
2. What do I find “easy” to do?
3. Which activities do I enjoy most?
4. Which classes at school makes sense to me? Which ones are difficult?

2. What are the broad areas of our [insert local region here] economy that are connected to my interests and natural abilities? (Note: Most students have interests that are represented by multiple broad fields and literally scores of career titles within those fields. It’s critical that we help them explore these broad areas first and not allow a student to pick a career title as the first step in this process. The latter results in weak decision making.)

Additional Questions:
1. Who shares my interests?
2. Which fields are represented by professionals who share my interests?
3. What is happening on the leading edge of these fields?
4. Who is doing leading-edge work?
5. What would the leaders do differently if they were in my shoes?
6. What can I do right now to become an asset in the field I’m pursuing?

3. Where are the educational opportunities, beginning in [insert local region here], that will allow me to compete successfully as a professional?

Additional Questions:
1. What is the placement rate for the post-secondary program that I’m interested in?
2. How do I interview successful alumni from this post-secondary program?
3. What is the difference between having my own plan, versus asking my academic advisor what to do?
4. How do successful professionals rank the postsecondary program that I am interested in?

For youth,



David Neils, founder and director of the International Telementor Program, has made it possible for more than 44,000 youth to receive academic mentoring support from hundreds of professionals representing a variety of fields. Write to:

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