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Finding Mentorship: Gifted Students Need Guidance, Too

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Finding Mentorship: Gifted Students Need Guidance, Too | National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT)Mentoring and volunteerism go hand-in-hand in the summer months. Mentoring is a great way for gifted students to have the opportunity to apply their abilities and skills within a real-life context under the guidance and encouragement of an adult who can share expertise in a common area of interest, as well as provide an emotional connection that is nurturing to both parties. Mentors share more than just interests and skills-they give of their time, talents, and values. While passing along traditions, information, and passions from one person to the next, mentors can change and direct young lives in positive directions. Most successful individuals will admit to having had a significant mentor at some point.

There are many forms of mentorships. They can occur in academic pursuits, career mentoring, or simply as friends or neighbors who share common interests or hobbies. I think the related idea of volunteerism provides a near-perfect type of mentoring for gifted students in that it can combine personal areas of interest along with gifted students’ need to make a difference in the world. Even from a very young age, gifted children may worry intensely about social concerns and issues.  Volunteering can be a great resource for mentoring gifted youth, as most people involved in social causes are idealists. A gifted individual will likely feel that someone who works in fields intended to help others will understand and identify with their feelings and their needs to act in positive and constructive ways.

Summer months can provide time for volunteering that might not be available during the school year. It can also provide appropriate weather for outside volunteer tasks. Here are some steps one could consider in getting involved in a volunteer project that reflects personal interests and provides opportunity to learn from adults who have expertise in the chosen area of interest. First decide what areas of concern you are passionate about. Do you care about hunger, children’s issues, bullying, scientific advancement, psychological concerns, or any myriad other issues? Then what aspect of helping and learning from others interests you? Do you like to work directly with people, do behind the scenes work, do physical labor, do fundraising, organizing, or any other aspect of real life problem solving?

Then decide where you’d like to put your energy. Transportation or other needed resources may dictate whether your volunteerism will be in your local neighborhood or much farther away. It might be that you can do your volunteering through the Internet, as some social problem solving is done as online support through hotlines or other online support services. There may be a program where you can volunteer with a mentor through a university, institute, or research foundation. You may just know someone who is engaged in interesting work that you’d like to know more about.

Determine the amount of time you wish to engage in the activity, with flexibility in case your interest wanes in favor of another interest, or in case you become very involved and wish to contribute more hours and energy to the project’s goals. Try to find a person who will work with you to teach you more about the facts, data, human issues, and/or research attached to the topic. You might seek that person through a project link or university webpage, emails, letters or phone calls. Don’t be discouraged if it is difficult to find a mentor through your volunteer choices. There are many reasons a potential mentor might not be available, able, or interested in working closely with you. Always rely on adults you trust and know to help you determine the safety and integrity of any person or project you wish to be involved with. Do your homework and research all aspects of the volunteerism project carefully. In the end once you have made a well-researched and fitting match with a program, be a good, responsible, and eager volunteer. If the cause you selected is worthy of your time and effort, you must be worthy of it. Learn all that you can in the process and pay it forward.

All the best,

Barbara Swicord, Ed.D.
CEO, National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT)
President, Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG)

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