On Our Minds

Working with so many organizations across multiple issue areas gives us a unique view into what’s happening in the social sector. This is where we share our insights and ruminations.
On-Ramps search consultant Diana O'Neal works on her laptop while seated at a desk.
Making mentorship meaningful: Giving back the support I got

“Making mentorship meaningful” is a series of articles highlighting talent professionals from the On-Ramps community as they share their experiences, insights, and tips for developing a fruitful mentorship—inside and outside the office. You can read the first article in this series here.


by Diana O'Neal

I’m a first-generation college student that grew up in a low-income community. Despite having few resources, I had a lot of support from my family, teachers, and schools. Without that support, I wouldn’t have learned how to navigate getting to and through college—and how to pay for it. Completing the FAFSA and applying for more than 24 scholarships at 17 years old was overwhelming.
I can only imagine how tough it would have been without support, and that’s what fueled my decision to become a mentor. By sharing my experience, I hope to help my mentees seek opportunities to continue their education and growth, and learn how to overcome challenges that may come their way. 

I just started mentoring a first-generation college student. We are beginning to work through how often we’ll meet and sorts of topics we’ll discuss. Our plan is to cover things like how to network inside and outside of school—especially since many students are away from their campuses right now. 

We’re also going to discuss what opportunities you can take advantage of during college to help you explore different interests and figure out what you might want to do upon graduating. I’m particularly passionate about this topic because I had a mentor who was pivotal in helping me understand what I wanted to do after college. I always felt stuck on a very linear path, and they reminded me that it’s possible to pursue multiple passions and careers over the course of my life. Now, I explore my passions in multiple ways: jobs, volunteer opportunities, and advocacy work. This was the most valuable lesson that I learned, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with my mentee. 


My other tips for mentees:

  • You don’t have to seek out a mentor alone. I know it can be intimidating to reach out to someone and ask them to mentor you. If that’s your style, go for it. But if not, there are many programs out there that help pair you with a mentor. Take time to research them and find which ones have programming related to what you want help with. 
  • Schedule meetings ahead of time—and always give a sufficient heads up if plans change. This can be tough, especially when time is limited. But scheduling time in advance to meet with your mentor and openly communicating when changes need to be made is both respectful to your mentor and professional of you to do. It’s ok if you need to reschedule! Just be sure to give as much notice as possible.
  • Know what you want to talk about with your mentor before you meet. If you have a specific question or topic in mind, great. Sharing it with your before you meet will help them prepare any answers or information they can then give to you. If you don’t have anything specific in mind, you can still have a plan for the conversation. For example, start each meeting with a recap of your week. You can discuss the last challenge or opportunity you grappled with, and take it from there.

The Takeaway
You don’t know what you don’t know. When you don’t have many resources, there’s a lot you don’t know. As a mentor, I hope to be a valuable resource so that my mentee may have a little less to worry about, and can focus instead on studying hard and enjoying their college experience.