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Mentor Cela Castillo and Student Alandra Kolze

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County to Expand Mentoring Program at Marshall High School After Successful Pilot Year

As one school year ends, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County (BBBS) is already planning for the next, looking to build on the success of an innovative school-based mentoring program, called MentorU, that it launched at Marshall High School during the 2022-23 school year with the help of a grant from Ascendium.

MentorU connects professionals in the community with high school students who share similar interests. Through one-to-one mentoring, students explore their career interests and plan for the future while also boosting their interpersonal skills and self-confidence. The program starts at 10th grade and is designed to continue through 12th grade.

Launching MentorU was a joint effort that involved financial support from several Madison-area organizations, including Ascendium. Last fall, Ascendium awarded BBBS a $100,000 Good Neighbor Grant to increase education and workforce training opportunities in the community. Good Neighbor Grants are unique in that Ascendium employees determine the recipients.

"Ascendium employees care deeply about helping learners in our community grow and realize their true potential," Brett Lindquist, Ascendium's vice president of strategic communications, said. "MentorU is a great example of what Ascendium hopes to accomplish with Good Neighbor Grants."

The first cohort of MentorU students averaged 12-18 sophomores, one of which is Alandra Kolze, whose career aspirations include both creative writing and dentistry. "I've learned a lot about my mentor's job and what she does on a daily basis, and it's opened my eyes to some of the different opportunities that are out there," Kolze said. "MentorU has helped me with writing a lot. Through setting up SMART goals and class activities, I feel like I have a good template to use to guide me through the future."

MentorU takes a flexible, nontraditional approach to learning. During a weekly flex class period, MentorU Program Coordinator Tiyanna Boyd teaches about practical topics like setting goals and preparing for job interviews. Afterward, students discuss the lesson with their mentor through an instant messaging app. Students and mentors also meet monthly during a class period to touch base and participate in facilitated activities like mock job interviews.

BBBS is planning to add a second cohort of 15-20 sophomores during Marshall's 2023-24 school year, running both the junior and sophomore cohorts in tandem. "We are thrilled to announce the expansion of our MentorU program at Marshall High School after a successful pilot year," BBBS CEO Sandy Morales said. "The program has already made a positive difference in the lives of our students, as they gain valuable insights into different career paths and receive guidance in setting goals. We have seen students like Alandra flourish, embracing their passions and gaining clarity about their future aspirations. Big Brothers Big Sisters is grateful for the support from Ascendium, which has played a significant role in making this program a reality. We invite community members to join us in this important endeavor as we search for more mentors."

To learn more about MentorU, including how to become a mentor, visit

About Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County (BBBS) helps all youth achieve their full potential. We do this through creating and supporting one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth. We use evidence-based practices that have been refined and strengthened over 50 years of operation locally, and over 100 years of operation nationally. Our local data mirrors national research, showing that Littles who participate in our program demonstrate increased educational success, engage in fewer risky behaviors, and have greater socio-emotional competency. We serve around 500 youth annually through our Community-Based and School-Based mentoring programs.

About Ascendium

Ascendium Education Group is committed to making education and training beyond high school a reality for more people. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, we fund initiatives across the U.S. that help learners from low-income backgrounds achieve upward mobility; provide student and employee success solutions to colleges and businesses; invest in education-focused innovations to improve learner outcomes; and provide information, tools, and counseling to help millions of borrowers successfully repay their federal student loans. While we have many roles, we have one goal — elevating opportunity by creating a world where everyone can rise to their highest potential. To learn more, visit