In 2015 Jorge Rodriquez and Angel Ortiz joined Project MALES, a research and mentoring program focused on improving educational outcomes for young boys and men of color. Although they didn’t know each other at the time, they shared one common goal: to make a difference by mentoring middle and high school students. We interviewed with Rodriquez, program coordinator for Project MALES, and Ortiz, a Radio-Television-Film junior, to learn more about their work and how their friendship has since flourished into a model mentor-mentee relationship.
Take us back to when you first met in 2015. How did it happen and what was it like?
Rodriquez: Some things just happen naturally. Once or twice, Angel came up to me to have a discussion about certain issues, and I’d say, “Yeah, let’s talk about this.” He felt that he could relate to me because I was going through something similar.
Ortiz: [Laughs] We were just talking about this in the office yesterday.
What does your work involve?
Rodriquez: I assist with the mentorship program. I oversee two site at local schools, where I deal with curricular, administrative and behavioral matters. This way the [undergraduate] mentors can deal with the day-to-day connections and mentoring. We have 50 undergraduate mentors and close to 150 students at the middle and high school levels.
Ortiz: The program emphasizes Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success. We focus on kids who are having problems with their teachers. We talk to them about brotherhood, leadership development and college readiness. After we get to know them, we also talk to them about life at home and career opportunities.
Why is this work important to you?
Rodriguez: My research interest is around low-income minority students. I came from that background. I want students to realize that college is a brand new journey. When you hear the students’ stories, you realize you have to be there to make sure the statistics don’t come true.
Ortiz: We’re there to guide them. It’s a one-on-one thing with students and mentors. We tell the students, “This is a safe space and we’re here to listen to you.” Once a relationship is established and students feel comfortable, they’ll tell us what’s going on.
What lessons have you learned?
Rodriguez: These students help me reflect on what I want to pursue career-wise. A lot of students are not prepared in high school to understand the concept of loans or debt, grants or scholarships. I wanted to focus on financial literacy. But when I started talking to students, I realized there are a lot more issues stopping them from going to college. I want to create a program to help students of color. The program used to be solely focused on financial literacy, but now it’s focused on much more.
Ortiz: I’ve learned a lot from the students. You have to be open to understanding that everybody comes from a different background. With each student I’ve talked with, I’ve learned where they come from and what they want to pursue. With Project MALES, we go into communities and make a difference in a direct way with students. We get to know them through giving and receiving wisdom.
How do these lesson shape the mentor-mentee relationship between you two?
Rodriquez: We always talk about mentoring. If I need something, Angel will be there. If he needs something, I’ll be there for him. This is the mentoring process. I know the middle and high school students look up to Angel. He wants to go into a different career field than me. I just want to make sure that he succeeds personally, academically and professionally.
Ortiz: Coming out of college, you have to grow up and learn so many things like financial literacy. Jorge gives me the sense that things will be Ok after college. He got his undergraduate degree, went to work, came back and got his master’s degree and managed to make it. Seeing somebody get this far reassures me that I will be OK.