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A Mentor’s View: Interview with Year 2 Mentor Shanthi Cambala

Read more about Lee’s experience with his CS mentors here.

I believe the students and mentors are the two factors that make CS the special organization it is, although the de facto focus is on the students and our achievements as Scholars both inside and outside of school. That’s why I felt that the mentors should be highlighted first at the end of this academic year.

In my first Launch workshop late 2021, I met my mentor Shanthi Cambala. After a few icebreaker games, I felt far more relaxed and optimistic about how the next few sessions would go. Fast-forward to Spring 2023, and Shanthi is one of my biggest supporters in my academic and creative pursuits.

“After scanning through multiple volunteer sites, I came across the opportunity to volunteer with CS Writing Labs, and given my love of writing, and I was immediately interested!” Shanthi said.  “One student reached out to me and asked if I would be willing to meet with him personally to assist with his creative writing portfolio. That particular student got into his top choice schools. It was after that moment that I knew that I would enjoy being a mentor, and the rest is history!”

“The first year took a LOT of planning, because there were so many moving pieces, especially with the unpredictability of the pandemic at the time. The primary questions that we as mentors asked was, “How do we build relationships virtually and keep everyone engaged?” The year (Year 2) was vastly different.” Shanthi said that Year 2’s less virtual structure gave her the challenge of aligning her own time with that of her five Year 2 Scholars. Once that was clear, her main priority was centered around Scholar wellness. “I really wanted to focus on listening and meeting Scholars where they were at.” To Shanthi, the mentor-Scholar relationship is “rooted in being open with one another…We want to get to know you, and most importantly, we want to be able to help you in your journey!… Mentors are here to guide you through the taught times, and we appreciate the trust that you put in us through such a foundational stop in your careers.”

For me, Shanthi is the perfect example of what makes CS special. When she invests her time towards her Scholars, it is not for the sake of just getting the job done. She wants to get eye level with us. After her monthly check-ins, she will always tell us anytime to reach out to her, no matter the reason. She has a true impact on my life, so I asked her how has Chicago Scholars impacted her life?

“Chicago Scholars has, first and foremost, helped me to feel connected and engaged with the Chicago community.” Shanthi says, “It has been exciting for me to get to know my Scholars and fellow Mentors, and I love hearing everyone’s stories!”

The deadline to apply to be a mentor for the Class of 2028 has been extended to May 17, 2023! Learn more here.

Mentorship, the CS Way

What is the heart and soul of a good mentor? A good CS mentor at that. It is more than asking a student how they are feeling and taking down notes on them. It takes the ability to look past the object lines under the job description and focus on the student.

When I was selected to be a CS Scholar, I had a vague idea of what CS mentoring was. I was apprehensive at first. I was happy to be part of CS, but I didn’t want the program to be a repetitive back and forth of “How are things?” and “Good, what do you need from me?” It certainly didn’t help that our sessions were Zoom and I could only see and hear my mentors, John Smart and Shanthi Cambala, in 2×4 boxes on the corner of my screen. I quickly learned how needlessly worried I was. Shanthi and John created games that sparked conversation between me and others in the cohort, relating to one another’s high school life. They didn’t force themselves into the discussion, but instead chimed in with their own experiences and advice.

Shanthi and John never made me feel any kind of pressure during my college decision process. They never jabbed me for updates on decisions from the admissions offices nor to know which school I was selecting. Instead, they reminded me that I was still human and even though I was in the middle of the most crucial points in my life, they were giving me their full support. I never felt like their care for mentoring me was going to abruptly stop when I graduated and got to college.

I selected Shanthi as my Year 2 Mentor because of how well I related to her. I never experienced mentorship from someone who is relatively close to the same junction I was in at the time. Shanthi is still going on her educational journey as I am, which I personally feel allows us to be more transparent and gives her a better understanding of what I may need help with or where I might be struggling.

I still keep in touch with John on a routine basis. He had recognized that my interest in film and television did not have as many conventional avenues that other scholar interests had. He connected me with an experienced director in the film industry so I could gather some expertise and tips on how to gain experience and notability.

When the formalities of “mentor/mentee” are gone, I believe I’ll have two wonderful friendships with Shanthi and John. The routine we have when it comes to staying in touch and considering each other’s well-being and potential, I confidently think that the foundation has already been laid.

What do you think is the heart and soul of mentorship? Why not develop a connection with a Scholar as a mentor yourself?

The application to become a CS mentor is now due on May 17! Learn more here. 

Jennifer Shimp and Dan Bradley named 2023 Mentors of the Year

Every year, we honor a Year One and Year Two Mentor as Mentors of the Year. While we celebrate the hard work and dedication of every Chicago Scholars Mentor, our Mentors of the Year not only embody our CS Way Values, but go above and beyond for their Scholars every day. This year, we’re thrilled to honor Year One Mentor Jennifer Shimp and Year Two Mentor Dan Bradley. 

Inspired to mentor the next class of Chicago Scholars? Click here to learn more about our application process. 

Jennifer Shimp is a veteran Chicago Scholars mentor and is currently mentoring a cohort of Year Two Scholars. Read her Q&A below to learn more about her experience as a mentor.  


What does it mean to you to be named Mentor of the Year? 

Receiving the Mentor of the Year is an unbelievable honor. Chicago Scholars is such an amazing and unique organization and I feel so fortunate to have gotten to know many of the talented Scholars, co-mentors and CS team. It is a privilege to share my time, work and life experience to help in some small way that the dreams and goals of the Scholars become reality.  


What is your favorite thing about mentoring Scholars? 

The best part of being a Chicago Scholar mentor is getting to meet the Scholars at New Scholar Orientation (NSO) and see them develop confidence in themselves, learn and capitalize on their unique “superpowers” and provide support as they complete their college and scholarship applications and prepare for their interviews at Onsite. It is so exciting when the acceptances, financial aid and scholarships start coming in which will determine where they take the next step in their college and career journeys. I enjoy staying in touch and continuing to see their growth through college and beyond.  


Why should someone become a Chicago Scholars mentor? 

Others should get involved with Chicago Scholars for many reasons, but the most important reason is to support young adults navigate the college access/acceptance process. Supporting their journey changes lives as well as those of future generations. They are the leaders who will be impacting our future!  

I still can’t believe that the Scholars in my very first cohort are just about to graduate from college. I love that the Scholars reach out periodically to ask for advice or just share updates.  


Would you like to share something you’ve learned from your Scholars? 

Two of the attributes of the Scholars that have impressed me the most are their perseverance and resilience. Many of them are relatively new to this country, many do not have big support networks, if at all. They have come through the isolation and challenges of the coronavirus and have other struggles but they work incredibly hard and take advantage and support of the Chicago Scholars program to make their future goals come true. It is so exciting to learn about the ways that they plan to make the world a better place.  



Dan Bradley is a veteran mentor who is currently working with a cohort of Year Two Scholars. 


What does it mean to you to receive this award?

I feel very humbled to be recognized with this award as I know how many extraordinary CS mentors — both that I’ve volunteered alongside or interacted with from a distance — are incredibly deserving of the recognition. I hope that I am able to adequately speak on behalf of the inspiring and diverse community of CS Mentors who make it a priority in their lives to encourage, support, and celebrate the efforts and talents of our scholars. It has always been my goal as a CS mentor to offer a positive influence, however small or large, in my scholars’ lives during a critical period of young adulthood. I believe that this award represents that the collective impact of the many contributions CS Mentors offer our scholars is far larger and more meaningful than we may appreciate in the fleeting shared moments together. To me the award also represents the irreplaceable support CS Mentors receive from the tireless efforts of the CS Staff. I would not be the CS mentor I am today without the year-round dedication and investment CS Staff make in both scholars and mentors to prepare us to be successful in our work together. 


What has been the best part of being a CS Mentor?

It is a bit surreal to realize the first cohort of scholars I worked with will now be heading into their senior undergraduate year. The years have flashed by. I am so impressed by how our scholars have navigated challenges and flourished as undergraduates. My favorite moments include witnessing the transformation scholars undergo — often between their second semester and the end of the year — when they begin embracing their identity as a college student with newfound confidence. I know it has occurred when scholars begin sharing their outlets to inspire new individuals to pursue educational goals. This drive to inspire and support others is what I believe is at the root of the transformational power of Chicago Scholars. 


Why should others get involved with Chicago Scholars’ work? 

The people of Chicago Scholars — scholars, staff, volunteers, and supporters of all types — deeply believe in the transformational mission of the organization. Anyone seeking to experience or contribute firsthand to the incredible impact higher education has on individuals and broader society will find a welcome home in Chicago Scholars. As a mentor you are trusted with playing a critical support role as scholars transition between high school to their first year as an undergraduate. The expectations for mentors are set high because Chicago Scholars attracts people who can meet them and provides the training to set individuals up to be successful. Becoming involved with Chicago Scholars’ work means you will find yourself as a member of this talented, driven community committed to transformation.   


What is something you learned from our Scholars or from being a CS Mentor? 

I’ve learned that it is never too early or too late to open yourself up and offer guidance, support, or a caring heart to another person. You don’t need to possess all of the “right” answers — or even all of the “right” questions — to make a positive impression and offer encouragement to another. You start simply by showing up, honestly sharing your experiences, and being willing to learn and grow. Setbacks or missteps are an inevitable part of everyone’s growth and development. These alone should not and will not dissuade anyone with the genuine desire to help people progress toward their set goals.  


Molly Tompkins, Tim Courtney, Armando Beccerill Sierra, and Michelle Repp honored with 2023 CS Ways Mentorship Awards

Every year, the CS Ways Awards honor Chicago Scholars mentors who embody one of our core values: We Dream Big, We Show Up, We Care for Each Other, We Embrace our Differences, We Model the Way, and We Keep our Word. This year, we’re excited to honor Molly Tompkins for her embodiment of We Model the Way, Tim Courtney for his embrace of We Show Up, Armando Becerril Sierra for showing how We Care for Each Other and Michelle Repp for living out We Keep Our Word. Please enjoy the following Q&A with these outstanding mentors. If you’re inspired to learn more about mentoring the next class of Scholars, click here.

We Model The Way: Molly Tompkins

What does it mean to you to receive this award? 

It means the world to me to be honored by an organization that has played such an integral role in my life since I joined as a CS Mentor. I respect the Chicago Scholars organization so much and am amazed by the impact it has on our community. Working with my incredible scholars has been life changing for me – they are the ones who deserve the true honor!

What has been the best part of being a CS Mentor?

The best part of being a CS Mentor is the lifelong relationships I’ve formed. I’ve had the honor of becoming close with my mentors and several of my scholars, attending graduations, birthday celebrations, and even moving one of my scholars into college in New York City. Seeing their grit, humility, tenacity and brilliance gives me so much hope and pride in our next generation of leaders. These scholars are truly going to change the world for the better.

Why should others get involved with Chicago Scholars’ work? 

Getting involved in Chicago Scholars provides you with a perspective that can change your day-to-day outlook. Their diverse backgrounds and stories are the fabric of our city. As a Mentor to scholars in the important life moments of applying to college, graduating high school, starting college, and their freshman year, you see incredible growth. You get to work one-on-one with students towards a more equitable city and world, and you gain more than you give. You get to see firsthand how simply resources and support can be life changing.

What is something you learned from our Scholars or from being a CS Mentor? 

My scholars are incredibly resilient and positive. They’ve taught me countless lessons, but the biggest would be never give up on your dreams (but stay practical – if your dream changes, that’s okay!).


We Care for Each Other: Armando Becerril Sierra

What does it mean to you to receive this award?

Being a recipient of this award means that I, along with my fellow mentors, are having a positive impact on young people’s lives through this platform that Chicago Scholars has provided us. That in and of itself is rewarding enough.


What has been the best part of being a CS Mentor?

Having the opportunity to meet and learn about these talented young people has been the most rewarding part of being a CS Mentor. Listening to everyone’s aspirations assures me that the future of the city will be in good hands.


Why should others get involved with Chicago Scholars’ work?

If you’re looking to have a direct, positive impact on the future of the city of Chicago, you should consider getting involved. Plus, I’d be willing to say that most of us, at some point in our life, have had a mentor that has positively impacted the trajectory of our life. So, why not pay it forward by becoming a CS Mentor?


What is something you learned from our Scholars or from being a CS Mentor?

Something that was further bolstered for me from this experience is that inclusion should be at the core of everything that we do in our lives. This was reflected by the scholars in my cohort at always made their fellow scholars feel welcome and embraced their differences.


Tim Courtney, We Show Up


What does it mean to you to receive this award? 

Just getting to work with the scholars, to help instill confidence, and help activate their ambitions and dreams is reward in itself; but to be recognized among both my peers and this wonderful, dedicated staff at Chicago Scholars is icing on the cake!

When your seniors are comfortable calling you at 11:30 PM to help double check that midnight-due essay or scholarship application, you know that you have earned their trust, and they know that you are there for them.  When they share things about themselves they haven’t told her parents, you realize you’ve earned their trust.  This award is just a wonderful reminder how important it is to show up (and keep showing up) for these young scholars.  It is a humbling experience to be recognized for the work that we all do in our own ways, and I am grateful.


What has been the best part of being a CS Mentor?

So many great parts, but I would say, just getting to know each of the scholars as individuals is a highlight.

My favorite moments are not just when they get accepted and start getting scholarship offers; it is sharing that hesitation and reluctance to hit that SUBMIT button on their very first college application, and then the excitement that occurs after they realize that they just applied to college!


Why should others get involved in Chicago Scholars’ Work?

This is such a pivotal moment in scholars’ lives; to assist in taking the leap to higher education impacts not only the scholars’ future, but it sets generations of families on a more secure path.  It is hard to think of a more important and rewarding work than that.


What have you learned from our scholars or from being a mentor? 

Just be present and available—reach out, again and again.  Scholars are very intuitive. They can discern between sincere interest and just putting in the time. I have also learned it is more important that you get to know THEM than having them get to know you.


Michelle Repp, We Keep Our Word


What does it mean to you to receive this award?

 CS Staff said it all when I received this award: We see you. It was validating that whether I feel that I’ve contributed enough or not, my participation alone is valuable and appreciated.


What has been the best part of being a CS Mentor?

The Scholars!  Every single Scholar is bright, impressive, and mature, and they offer hope for the future of a complicated society.


Why should others get involved in Chicago Scholars’ Work? 

As a mentor I am actually put to work, and for a truly good cause.  That’s what you hope for when you are looking for a volunteer opportunity.

As a volunteer mentor, you will find that expectations are clear.

You are held to Chicago Scholars’ core principles.   This is not the type of organization where you can show up if and when you feel like it.  To me, this culture communicates Chicago Scholars’ commitment to and belief in its mission, which lends it credibility.


What have you learned from our scholars or from being a mentor?  

The Scholars model the way for me.  For example, my Scholars taught me about respectful communication in a world that has vastly changed since I graduated from college.