The pair started with college on their mind and ended with a mentorship that meant so much more.

At Breakthrough New York, relationships are more important than ever in encouraging students on their pathways to and through college. In 2020, we launched our college coach program, in which over 100 volunteers guided Breakthrough college students through their academic, professional, and personal journeys navigating these new environments. Recently we spoke with Shelbi and Tylyce, a Breakthrough college student and her coach, about their experiences in the new program.

Shelbi is a rising junior at Norfolk State University, a public Historically Black College/University (HBCU), where she is studying pre-nursing. After graduation, she plans to pursue her masters degree and become a nurse practitioner. “I’ve always really just wanted to help people,” Shelbi shared. “I started looking more into the medical field and I realized that nurses have more of an intimate relationship with their patients.”

Tylyce joined the Breakthrough community in 2015 as a Teaching Fellow for our middle school summer enrichment program. The fellowship propelled her into education, and today, she is a Saga Math Fellow and educator with Aspire Public Schools. Tylyce returned to Breakthrough last fall in our inaugural college coach cohort and was matched with Shelbi.

Tylyce and Shelbi quickly developed an authentic relationship. Tylyce worked with Shelbi through the transfer process to Norfolk State University and regularly sent Shelbi scholarship opportunities. While her family also supports her, Shelbi reflected that “it’s totally different when it’s somebody who’s not family, and really cares about you. She’s become like a big sister to me.”

For Tylyce, it was important to be intentional about how she interacted with her mentee and to recognize the difficulties of the college experience. “College is not easy,” she said. “Students need support going through that whole entire process. And the only way that they’ll be willing to open up to you is if you’re being vulnerable with them. Building that bond is super important.”

College and career success manager, Minji Kim, shared, “It’s been lovely to see how Tylyce and Shelbi have worked together for over a year now. Shelbi is an ambitious student who knows how to strive for her goals, and Tylyce is a wonderful cheerleader who gives her additional confidence and resources to do so. They are truly a dynamic duo that we are so lucky to have in our community!”

Each year, Breakthrough New York recruits and trains over 250 young people as teaching fellows, mentors, and coaches. They provide Breakthrough students with personalized support, while shaping their own leadership as future educators. Together, these teams of Breakthrough students and their mentors grow their capacity as community builders, developing empathy, intentionality, and a commitment to contributing your strengths to serving others.

Reflecting on her time with Breakthrough New York, Shelbi revealed:

“Breakthrough is excellent because they provide students who don’t come from the best backgrounds with opportunities where they can be successful. Not just for themselves but for their communities and for their families. Breakthrough allows students to be better than what society places on them based on their
ethnic background, religious background, or their sexual orientation. Breakthrough is a program where we can be ourselves, and they give us the resources to better ourselves. Then we can help whomever we are around.”

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