Stavros joined Breakthrough New York as a college coach in 2021, when he was paired with Queens College freshman Breezy. He recently spoke to us about his motivation for volunteering, and how everyone has something to contribute as a mentor.
Tell me more about yourself.
I was born and raised in Queens. Growing up, one of the biggest aspects of my life that was pushed was definitely my education. Graduating from high school and going [to] Queens College was really beneficial to me because I was able to get a quality education. I majored in classical literature–a lot of reading and writing. Growing up in New York, I was surrounded by diverse communities and I was exposed to different cultures. That helped inform my own perspective as well.
How did you get involved as a college coach at Breakthrough New York?
I learned about Breakthrough New York from my position as a tour guide with CUNY Explorers [a program that offers college tours to middle school students]. Going through my own college experience, there were definitely [times] where I was like, if only I could tell a younger version of myself to do this, or take advantage of this opportunity, I would totally do it. I have all this knowledge–if I can give that information to a mentee, that would make all the difference.
How did you approach this opportunity? What goals did you have in mind when becoming a college coach?
I wanted to be a coach in college life in general. My main approach was creating a space where my mentee can express their own thoughts with college so far, and [present] information and resources that are useful. Also, I’d give my own experience about college and be honest and upfront about that. That’s something [college students] appreciate–being authentic.
What are some skills you’ve built upon being a coach for Breezy?
One thing from my own personal experiences, and also webinars I’ve done with Breakthrough New York, is understanding a lot of the challenges and difficulties that college students face. One of the big ones we talk about is mental health. Definitely mental health is something I’ve become more [familiar] with, especially at the college level. Mental health is definitely something you shouldn’t push to the side for the sake of your studies. You have to find that balance.
Also understanding who my mentee is, where they’re coming from, what their circumstances are, and how I can support them during that time. Taking a step back and being that pillar of support for them as they’re going through their college experience. I always say I’m a perpetual student. I’m always learning new stuff.
What would you say to someone who’s considering becoming a college coach with us?
[At] Queens College, our motto is “We learn so that we may serve.” Being Greek American, that was the mindset that I had. Giving these incoming college students the chance to be successful and get the support they need. My advice for someone who’s interested in the role is understand that your education and your own experience in college and life in general–those hold value. Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone comes with their own struggles and success. You can really help a college student or mentee by sharing that with them. So far it’s been really successful. It’s a learning experience that goes both ways. If you’re someone who has that story and that education and wants to give back, Breakthrough New York offers a way to do that in a way that’s meaningful and helpful. That’s my biggest push for joining Breakthrough New York.
If you’d like to become a college coach, visit our Volunteers page for current opportunities.