‘Promise’ surge yields shortage of mentors

Published 10:10 am Tuesday, October 14, 2014

As the number of high school seniors signing up for the Tennessee Promise program continue to rise, Carter County is facing a shortage of mentors for those students.
Tennessee Promise is both a scholarship and mentoring program that will begin in the fall of 2015. It will provide students a “last-dollar” scholarship, meaning the scholarship will cover tuition and fees not covered by the Pell grant, the HOPE scholarship or TSAA. Students may use the scholarship at any of the state’s 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology, or other eligible institution offering an associate’s degree program.
As of Monday, 311 students in Carter County have applied to the Tennessee Promise Program, said Ben Sterling, outreach coordinator with tnAchieves, a partnering organization which provides the mentoring aspect of the Tennessee Promise. Sterling said the number of students signing up is higher than anticipated, and enrollment numbers are expected to continue to rise until the Nov. 1 application deadline.
Sterling said so far, 50 individuals in Carter County have signed up to participate as mentors, but more are needed.
“We need about 12 to 15 more mentors there in Carter County,” he said.
Mentors with the program will work with between five and 10 students. “Because of the mentor deficit we are encouraging mentors to take on 10,” Sterling said. “Many of our mentors, especially our returning mentors, have signed up for 10.”
According to Sterling, the program mentors work with their assigned students to provide them encouragement and support as they navigate the college or trade school application process.
“We are not expecting you to be a tutor,” he said. “Every student can use some encouragement, some more than others.”
The role of the mentor, Sterling said, is more of a “taskmaster” to help students stay on track with deadlines for applications and other paperwork while encouraging them to stay focused. He said mentors work with the students during the last semester of their senior year of high school through their first semester of their post-secondary program.
“While removing the financial burden is key, a critical component of Tennessee Promise is the individual guidance each participant will receive from a mentor who will assist the student as he or she navigates the college admissions process,” said the state website for the Tennessee Promise program. “In addition, Tennessee Promise participants must complete eight hours of community service per term enrolled, as well as maintain satisfactory academic progress — 2.0 GPA — at their institution.”
Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey said an advisory board to help support the tnAchieves program in Carter County has been established. He said the board includes himself; Dean Blevins, director of Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Elizabethton; Chris Hitechew, director of Northeast State Community College’s Elizabethton campus; Carter County Board of Education Chairman Rusty Barnett; and Danny McClain, secondary school supervisor with the Carter County school system.
Humphrey said he feels the mentoring program will be very beneficial to students, especially those who will be the first person in their family to attend college.
“I was the first in my family to go to college,” Humphrey said. “I understand what a little bit of support and encouragement will mean to these folks.”
Those who wish to apply to be a mentor can sign up online at https://www.tnachieves.org/mentor-application.
Sterling said anyone with questions on how to enroll as a student or on signing up as a mentor can call him at 865-567-1140.

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