I began my relationship with Point as many scholars likely did: wistfully from afar. I would scour the website looking at the photos of impressive scholars and lively events hosted by the organization. I would daydream about being chosen as a scholar but since I was unsure of my chances, and true to my personality, I had a variety of other back up plans for school just in case. I remember feeling that without financial support, my dream of earning my PhD was out of reach. I was overwhelmed with gratitude and relief when I was chosen as a scholar. This meant I could begin my journey of receiving my PhD in Social Work at The University of Alabama.
I was aware that Point offered a mentoring component for their scholars, but I did not pay much attention to it during the application process. I was focused on the financial assistance that, in a very real way, could help me actualize my educational and professional goals. As someone who returned to school in my late 20s, I brought nearly a decade of professional work experience, networks, and support. When I was selected as a scholar in 2011, I was not sure how mentoring would enhance my academic journey. I already had several people I considered mentors, and those relationships happened organically. I was certain that Point wanted me to focus exclusively on my studies, and I saw my mentor match with Jennifer Bonardi from Cambridge, Massachusetts as a pleasant commitment in the vein of a duty or a check mark on my to-do list for the month. I remember being concerned that the conversations would be awkward and forced.
Even though they share the photo above with Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy III (second from left) and former NBA player Jason Collins (far right), the real stars here are Jen and Sarah.
I should mention that Jen, my mentor for four-going-on-five years, is a force of nature. I remember vaguely getting a description of her from Point: works at a non-profit (Ford Hall Forum) in Boston; volunteers extensively for LGBTQ+ organizations, including serving as Board member for several organizations; bi woman. Since we lived over 1,000 miles apart, our relationship would have to develop over Skype. We connect on Skype regularly, and I’m fortunate enough to attend the Regional Leadership Forum in Boston every year, which gives us a chance to connect in person.
From the beginning, Jen has been a source of support and encouragement. I’m aware that some scholars get professional matches to people who are in their area of study or future area of employment, but Jen and I are different. Jen and I work in a general social justice/community organizing sphere, but our experiences are not exactly alike. These different experiences, mine in academia and hers in the non-profit sphere, add a level of insight to the support she provides me. She can ask questions and point out that academia is its own special (and sometimes distorted) place. I find her support refreshing, unwavering, and invigorating.
The truth is, while I certainly could not be planning my graduation in 2016 without the financial resources the Point Foundation has provided to me, my relationship with Jen has been an unexpected gift.
Learning how to ask for support, how to nurture a mentoring relationship, and how to balance my life apart from my studies are skills I’ve added or strengthened thanks to Jen’s help. My relationship with Jen has offered me a safe space to talk about the frustrations and insecurities I have in pursuing my PhD, something I can’t always do with people in my program.
She is there to celebrate my victories and to brainstorm solutions to any challenges I am facing. When my dad died last year, Jen was in my corner letting me know that she was there if I needed anything. I already knew she would be.
Jen is one of the best and brightest benefits of being a Point Scholar. My hyper-focus on academics almost led to me missing someone who will be a lasting part of my family for years to come.
This post was written by Point Scholar Sarah Young
Sarah Young, who identifies as bisexual, grew up in a rural Upstate New York town where there were few people who openly identified as LGBTQ, and where teachers permitted and often participated in using homophobic language in the classroom. Sarah is a social worker by profession and a community organizer by practice.