Using what they have learned from their own parenting experiences, a group of five Quad-City healthcare professionals is preparing to mentor high school freshmen next school year.
The effort, initially, will target 10 incoming students at Moline, Rock Island and United Township high schools. Volunteers will work with high-achieving teenagers — whose families earn less than $100,000 per year — with the goal of helping them gain acceptance to one of the nation's top-20 colleges or universities or a prestigious scholarship program.
“Because of certain limitations in counseling offices, there are a lot of good students who don’t receive mentoring,” said Dr. Sanjeev Puri, a Moline-based cardiologist who is spearheading the program on behalf of Cardiovascular Medicine, or CVM.
Public high school counselors often are preoccupied with maintaining graduation rates, he added, while “the top academic kids get left out.”
The initiative will be supported by $50,000 from the Cardiovascular Medicine Research Fund, CVM's endowment administered by Trinity Health Foundation. The funding will help cover students’ academic-related costs, including college prep materials and applications.
The other mentors involved are cardiologists Dr. Aswartha Pothula, Dr. Rafat Padaria, Dr. Mark Kovach, ophthalmologist Dr. Navaneet Borisuth and Kathy Pulley, director of cardiology services at UnityPoint Health — Trinity. Puri, Pothula, Padaria and Kovach are members of CVM. Borisuth runs Virdi Eye Clinic in Rock Island.
Beginning next school year, each of them will guide two students throughout the course of their respective high school careers. They will help them explore possible career interests, find summer internship opportunities and leadership positions and coach them through the college application process. The mentors have helped their own children get into top-ranked academic institutions, said Puri, whose teenage son, Shiv, recently graduated from Moline High School and is heading this fall to the University of Chicago.
Pulley's daughter, Addie, was valedictorian of Sunday's graduating class at Alleman Catholic High School in Rock Island. She will attend the University of Notre Dame.
"It's intense," Pulley said of the competitive college prep process. "There are a lot of things that even I wish I had known ahead of time; you need to start planning for these years when you're a freshman and a sophomore."
Qualified freshmen interested in the mentorship program must complete and submit an application to their high school guidance counselor by Sept. 30. Puri said they will interview a total of 20 students and their parents before selecting the 10 finalists.
Once they establish a strong foundation, they plan to recruit professionals in other fields — from engineering to plumbing — to expand the program's reach and offer different perspectives. Organizers eventually will introduce the program to students in the Iowa Quad-Cities.
“We want to start in Illinois because we have a lot of diversity in Illinois schools,” said Puri, who noted mentors will supplement what parents already provide for their children. “Sometimes parents are so busy they just don’t have the time and energy to dedicate to their child.
“Whenever they need any help, we will be their go-to people.”