WINTER PARK, Fla. — In a world of “who you know,” mentorship programs are often a key component on increasing a student’s social capital coming out of college. That’s why during Alumni Weekend at Rollins College, it’s not uncommon to see current student strolling with alumni.
- Rollins senior Isaac James says he's excelling, thanks to his mentor
- Mo Coffey and James were paired through Rollins' 'Career Champions'
- As a Sudanese refugee, James got a lot of support from Mo
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Next to Mo Coffey, a 2008 Rollins graduate, stands a tall Rollins senior, Isaac James.
James and Coffey know each other because of the college’s new mentorship program called Career Champions.
“We follow each other even from afar, in everything from social media, to checking how we are doing professionally and academically,” Coffey said, laughing.
The pair is obviously close, and just to bring that point home, James quickly chimed in after Coffey saying, “The other day I fell off my bike and bumped my head, and the first person that messaged me was Mo.”
If you ask them, they are not a mentor-mentee anymore — they see themselves as family. However, their upbringing in life couldn’t be more different.
“I see myself as a refugee and nothing other. I don’t see myself as having a home,” James said.
Isaac was born in the Ifo refugee camp in Kenya, but his family is Sudanese. They fled Sudan during the country’s second civil war in the 1990s.
“That was home (Kenya refugee camp). That was where I was born,” James said. “The UN just gives these families just a plot of land, and that plot of land is where you really fight for your future.”
It was a tough time for his family, and things only changed by chance.
“We got lucky, absolutely,” James said. “That is one interesting part about my life, is that I have been able to defy certain odds, and what I want to do with that is also help others defy those odds.”
Picked in a lottery system, his family left Kenya and was placed in an underprivileged community in Memphis, Tennessee. It was there that James truly began to excel, after high school getting into community college, and then he was accepted into Rollins College.
Transitioning to Life in Winter Park
James now lives in Winter Park, which is easily one of the most affluent places in all Central Florida. It is a stark contrast, and while being at in Winter Park has brought him opportunity, there is a downside.
“It hurts,” said “It hurts every day to be in a space such as this as Winter Park, something that is really lavish and understand that what I left behind… is something so miserable, because people are still going through it.”
It’s why James’ life goal and reason behind his education is to help those still suffering in those African countries and communities. This is also where Coffey is helping James.
“It’s about a relationship, it’s not just about giving advice,” Coffey said. “Certainly there is some of that, but it’s also making sure he has access to all of the resources he needs, making sure that I can give him my connections and open up my networks to him, so that he can increase that social capital that we were talking about.”
Coffey runs a consulting company in the public service sector. She helps James with his own nonprofit, fellowship interviews, and more.
During alumni weekend, she just had to know how James’ interview went for the Harry Truman Scholarship. He is a finalist.
Both strongly encourage other Rollins alumni to look into the Career Champions Mentor Program and for other colleges and universities to start their own.
At Rollins, Career Champions started with 35 mentor-mentee pairs, but its success now has it increased to 50 mentor-mentee matches.