There is one role in Minds Matter that takes someone with a broad knowledge of and experience with the collegiate education system, a wealth of contacts at major universities throughout the country, a passion for helping students, and the patience of a saint – the Director of Mentees.
Jessica Marlitt is one of two new Directors of Mentees for Minds Matter Portland, replacing co-founders Matt and Roberta Cohen.
When Roberta and Matt Cohen, who helped found Minds Matter Portland, decided to phase out of this role, there was great potential for distress to spread throughout the organization. These two individuals had been with the team since its inception and had become such an integral part of the organization that it was difficult to envision how someone could replace them. Who could they find to fill these huge shoes?
Matt and Roberta shaped the role of Director of Mentees. Finding the right students for the Minds Matter program is not an easy task; making sure the students are ready for Minds Matter is the most difficult part. The Cohens established relationships with local-area high school counselors, who help get the word out to eligible freshman. The Cohens then conduct information sessions at each high school, field questions and collect applications.
There often are twice as many applicants as there are spots in the program, so Matt and Roberta reviewed the applications, interviewed the students, talked to their parents, and accepted the 15 or so students every year whom they thought would best benefit from Minds Matter. When a student faltered in their academic or home life, Matt and Roberta often were the ones stepping in, making contact with the school or parents to help the student get back on track. And they presided over the Graduation ceremony every spring for the students who they had recruited three years earlier.
Replacing the Cohens’ institutional knowledge appeared to be a daunting task. Luckily, Minds Matter had a perfect fit already working in the ranks. Jessica Marlitt, a college counselor, quickly stepped forward and expressed interest in taking on this large and intricate role. When the leadership team dug further into her background, they realized that her education, work experience, and passion made her the perfect woman to continue Matt and Roberta’s legacy of excellence in the position.
Jessica, along with Jen Allen, actually shares the role. Jen focuses on the current students as they transition into Minds Matter and serves as the liaison between the organization and school counselors. Jessica’s main focus is future student recruitment through connections with local high schools, college, and other student support programs.
Jessica began her college experience at Hofstra University, and transferred to Boston University after her first year. She spent her junior year in Grenoble, France at the Universite de Grenoble and graduated from Boston University with a BA in International Relations. After working in Boston for a year, she turned her sights to graduate school, earning her Masters in Public Policy and Administration from Columbia University.
After making her way to Oregon, she became the Director of Upper School Activities and Programs at Catlin Gable. Here, Kate Grant, one of Minds Matter’s college counselors and a fellow Catlin Gable employee, told her about the virtues of working with Minds Matter. In April 2011, Jessica began shadowing Kate during Saturday sessions, eventually becoming a co-college counselor for four Minds Matter seniors during the 2012-2013 school year. From that point forward, she was hooked. “I am smitten with Minds Matter,” she said. “This organization amazes me, and I wanted to engage more deeply with it.”
She had already committed to becoming a full-time college counselor with the program for this year when the opportunity to expand her role and take on the Co-Director of Mentees position. She jumped at the opportunity and has found that her roles have become unbelievably rewarding. “Getting to know the seniors and helping them navigate the college admissions process is most rewarding. Often nervous and intimidated at the year’s start, the seniors inevitably rise to the college application challenge and gain tremendous understandings of themselves, the process, and the many avenues for success in the future.”
While the school year is still young, Jessica’s touch has been noticed by many people involved with the organization. Wayne Wischmann, Minds Matter Program Director, works directly with Jessica on the recruitment of student. He recently said, “Jessica is a warm, caring individual who, like all of our volunteers, tirelessly gives her time to improve the lives of our students.”
Jessica has big plans for attracting quality students to the program moving forward, but right now, her main focus is to carry on Matt and Roberta’s legacy with the program. “It’s daunting following in Roberta and Matt’s footsteps, as they are pillars of the program, but I hope to maintain the wonderful connections that they have developed with area schools,” she said. “I really like people of all ages and am eager to spread the word about Minds Matter, while hopefully reaching many potential new mentees.”
With Jessica’s enthusiasm for the program and drive to be successful, there is no question that she will make Matt, Roberta, and this entire organization proud.
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The Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS) Program, funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was established in 1999 to provide outstanding African American, American Indian/Alaska Native*, Asian Pacific Islander American**, and Hispanic American students with an opportunity to complete an undergraduate college education in any discipline area of interest. Continuing Gates Millennium Scholars may request funding for a graduate degree program in one of the following discipline areas: computer science, education, engineering, library science, mathematics, public health or science.