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Black Mentorship Inc. partnership opens conversations for students

Newsroom authorby Jill ScarrowFeb 21, 2021

As Sheridan continues its journey to create safe spaces where the entire college community can thrive, the introduction of purposeful partnerships has been key to ensuring student success.

In early February, Sheridan announced a new partnership with Black Mentorship Inc. (BMI), an organization that strengthens leadership opportunities by connecting Black youth, professionals and entrepreneurs with experienced mentors. Through the partnership, BMI and Sheridan will identify, train and pair Sheridan alumni with current students to support networking, knowledge sharing, career clarity and readiness.

To help kick off that partnership, Sheridan and BMI have begun working together on a series of virtual seminars for students. Through a career conversation series titled Black Leadership, Ambition, Collective Knowledge and Success, students will be able to hear from alumni about their personal and professional experiences.

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Shauna Kay-Jones (Software Development and Network Engineering ’15) presented at the first conversation series in November, which focused on insights into career successes and challenges. The inequity exposed by the pandemic, plus the growing calls for change from the Black Lives Matter movement, compelled her to take part in the seminar. She felt it was important to give back by openly sharing her experiences.

Jones is the founder of Motify, an app that helps schools support students to achieve their personal and academic goals through activities such as mentorship or by linking them to academic resources. Jones worried the education sector would be hit hard by the pandemic, and began looking for a way to connect with other markets. She found herself connecting with other Black-owned businesses, helping them adapt to the technology needed to operate remotely. She realized students might benefit from seeing real-life examples of a pivot in action.

"I have been planting the tree, but I won’t get the fruit. Volunteering can make things better for someone tomorrow. " – Michelle John

“I had to completely shift my world, my understanding of what I do,” she says. “I'm able to roll with the punches and figure out how I can still stick to the core of who I am and what I want to do, even though it's not the journey I expected to be in at this moment.”

Throughout 2020, she also found herself reflecting on her own journey to secure funding for Motify. Jones originally created the app while studying as a student at Sheridan and has since devoted her time to developing her business. She always took it for granted that her passion and tireless hard work would lead to success. Then, she encountered racism on her professional journey, including being told that it would be easier for her to secure funding if she were a white male. She realized her success was not just dependent on her education or hard work.

“I remember that was one of the first times it dawned on me that my world is different,” Jones recalls. “I think that was one of the first times where it was shown to me that there are limits of what I could possibly do or achieve because of something I have no control over.”

Jones took part in the session because she wanted to share her experience honestly. She wanted to let current students know that roadblocks do pop up – and that they need to be prepared to find a way around them.

“Being able to see that openly and honestly and speak your truth. I think this has been the most honest I felt I have been able to be,” she says.

Focus on Volunteering

On February 11, Sheridan alumni and staff once again came together to share advice and support to students. That session, called Our Brand Matters: Investing in Your Community, Investing in Yourself, featured Sheridan alumni and career development professionals sharing insights into volunteerism, personal branding and the importance of investing in yourself and your community.

Michelle John (Legal Office Administration ’89) was one of the panelists. As a fire/life safety education officer in Brampton’s Fire and Emergency Services, her career affords her the opportunity to give back directly to the Brampton community. She also makes volunteering a lifelong habit, working with organizations such as Coldest Night of the Year, which raises funds for those experiencing housing insecurity. She likens volunteering to planting a tree: it starts small, but will have a big payoff in the future.

“I have been planting the tree, but I won’t get the fruit: someone else will enjoy that,” she explained during the session. “Volunteering can make things better for someone tomorrow.”

Sheldon Williams, who studied in the Business Administration, Marketing program, is vice president of the Canadian Caribbean Association of Halton. He encouraged students to remember that while giving back can help fulfill a passion project that they may not get to pursue at work, it is equally valuable to gain experience that translates into paid employment down the line. “Volunteering can help you stand out,” he explained.

Sunand Sharma, Sheridan’s Associate Dean - Community Citizenship, Leadership and Engagement, encouraged students to remember that the pandemic doesn’t mean volunteering has to end. In fact, many agencies may be looking for extra hands to deliver meals or have work that can be done virtually. With other activities on pause, it could be the perfect time to pursue a new volunteering opportunity. “Every little step counts,” he said.

John encouraged students to “start where you are. It doesn’t have to be big. Know what your interests are before you start volunteering, and then find an organization that matches.”

“Start with simple things,” Williams agreed. “You just start small and build from there.”

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