Schweitzer Fellows have the unique opportunity to design and implement a community project and to be in the “driver’s seat” with regard to ensuring their project is a success. Each of the Fellows has the strong support of several mentors, including a Fellow for Life mentor. Joanna Villacorta, a 2014‐15 Fellow who is now serving as a Fellow for Life mentor, shared her re?lections about guiding a group of Fellows:
My experiences as a Student Mentor this year have helped me to see a wider view of the Schweitzer Fellowship; they have led me to feel much more part of a network of people working to create a more equitable and just society. I deeply enjoy my group of mentees and continue to be so impressed and inspired by their stories in their monthly reports. They approach their work with passion and dedication. I have also noticed that, although they lead very busy lives, they have not been jaded or burned out!
I have also been pleasantly surprised with how swiftly they overcome or reframe their “boulders.” Although they have encountered many challenges, they only seem to ask, “What else can I do?” I have also been energized by observing the fellows’ interactions over social media. They invite each other to events, network, and even join each others’ advocacy efforts! Many of them have inspired and enlightened me to become more engaged in both service and also networking within the Schweitzer network.
My experiences as a mentor have also led me to reflect on my own professional development, particularly as it pertains to staying in direct service as opposed to working in policy. I have been very touched by some of the Fellows’ self-reflections on how the Fellowship has changed them, especially those who are in fields in which it is very easy to be a student and professional without ever interacting with high-needs populations. I realized that, to me, these are the types of students for whom the Fellowship can have the greatest impact because they are most likely to come into contact with those who have the power to change policies and circumstances for the highest needs segments of society. It benefits those whom I serve directly that the future doctors, lawyers, and professionals of America have seen first-hand their plight, an experience which was made possible through the Fellowship. Therefore, mentoring has helped me to see that, even if I chose to go into policy work later in my career, it still benefits those I directly serve today to have someone creating policies and programs who has stood in the trenches and knows what life is like on the ground.
When I originally agreed to be a Schweitzer student mentor, I thought my role would be to give back to the Fellowship. What I did not anticipate is that the experience of mentoring would also lead me to better understand myself and my own professional development. While I hope that I have contributed and will continue to impact the Fellows in a meaningful way, I also hope that mentoring continues to drive me forward in my own development of a life of service.