Right around the time she was planning her 10-year high school reunion in 2014, Douglas Elliman agent Eleonora Srugo founded the Stuyvesant High School Alumni Mentoring Program. What started as a way to introduce students to alumni in their fields and industries of interest quickly evolved to focus on professional development and social skills for some of the city’s most gifted Public High School students. The program is entirely volunteer based, with generous donors like Fried Frank, Standard General and BlackRock providing session accommodations. Eleonora and her team of 75 mentors work year round on the planning of logistics, curriculum and organization.
“The idea was to help students see the bigger picture for a brighter future, look beyond college, and start to identify and brand themselves all while building self-confidence.”
—Eleonora Srugo, Douglas Elliman Agent and Founder of the Stuyvesant High School Alumni Mentoring Program
Right now the Alumni Mentoring Program is in full swing with its biggest semester yet, with a total of 280 students this term and 400 applicants each semester. The program has seen such success that numerous schools have reached out to Eleonora to help replicate it for their students. Elliman Insider spoke with Eleonora about the program, what inspired her to start it and what is most rewarding about running the Stuyvesant High School Alumni Mentoring Program. Here’s what she had to say.
Elliman Insider: Could you give us an overview of the program?
Eleonora Srugo: Students have 5 individual and team based sessions with their alumni mentors and also attend workshops in public speaking, resume writing, essay writing, college applications, elevator pitches, life skills and interviewing. We also have additional opportunities like cooking classes, financial coaching, socializing, office tours and more. Our goal for next year is to add on physical health components with fitness, yoga, and meditation because our students have so much stress and anxiety.
EI: What inspired you to start the mentoring program?
ES: The biggest misconception about Stuyvesant students is that they are in anyway privileged. These students are mostly comprised of first generation immigrant families with approximately half living below the poverty line. They are blessed to have tested into the school but also make tremendous sacrifices to attend, dedicated to academics, a strong work ethic, test-taking ability, and often commuting an hour to two hours each day to attend. They are able to balance an enormous workload, but many lack basic social confidence which is essential to succeed in any entrepreneurial pursuit. These kids are so gifted, but many don’t know what success looks like beyond college acceptance or how to apply their education into a long-term plan. They often come from very low income communities and feel immense pressure to succeed so they can help their families. My goal is to have them visualize their professional futures, give them tools to achieve that vision, and a network of alumni and professional volunteers to support them.
EI: What is one of the most rewarding parts about this program for you?
ES: One of the most rewarding parts is that many of our students come back to us after college asking to be mentors. We now have over 1,000 students who have been through the program and endless testimonials from parents and students about specific and tangible results. So many of our kids build life-long networks and real support systems that have coached them through college applications, transfer applications, job interviews and difficult life decisions. The bonds created between alumni and students has fostered a strong community of people who want to pay it forward.
EI: How are students selected and matched with mentors?
ES: The application process consists of 3 questions and a lot of background information mainly used for the matching process. Students are asked what they hope to get out of the experience, to describe a non-academic passion or hobby, and finally for a short bio. A team of 8 mentor leaders assist me in reading all 400–600 applications and carefully rank each one.
The students and mentors go through a rigorous orientation and on-boarding period before we individually match them. The matching process is meticulous because we want both adult mentors and students to foster life-long rewarding relationships.
EI: What skills do you work on with students in the sessions?
ES: The students really go through an evolution. We start with essay writing because it’s not as overwhelming for the students to tackle and allows the seniors to have really well written and edited college applications. The students are encouraged to view each other as a network—one of the earliest assignments is just to work on greeting each other when they cross paths at school – that includes eye contact, handshakes, and small talk. Our sessions include topics such as: ‘do grades matter,’ addressing fear and anxiety, choosing a college, resume writing, public speaking, and life skills which is by far the student favorite.
EI: Are there any success stories or students that you’re particularly proud of?
ES: One of my favorite students from our earlier years started the program as a senior and felt his experience was life changing but worried that it was “too late” for him. He feared he had spent his high school years being anti-social and regretted his college and major choice for being too far away and in a field he knew wasn’t for him. With the continued help from his mentor, he transferred to an Ivy League school to pursue his true academic passion and got in with a full scholarship. He was so grateful that he actually interned for me for 2 summers until he secured a very coveted job with a world-renowned professor in research. There are countless other stories, and many of our students come back and want to help new mentees—I’m so proud of their community mindedness and desire to help others.
—by Jacqueline Kuron