By Linda Smith
Emma Tierney enters Barbara Cardwell Career Preparatory Center, finding herself at the end of a long hallway as her mentee spots her. The young girl has not seen Tierney for over a semester, and upon seeing her, runs down the hallway shouting “Emma! I have so much to tell you!” before giving her a huge hug.
Moments like these comprise the whole experience of the mentoring program from the University of Dallas Society for Women, which recently received a Partner in Education distinction from the Barbara Cardwell Career Preparatory Center. For three years, the group has visited one of Irving’s five high schools and its only non-traditional school, the Cardwell Center, to mentor at-risk high school girls. This year, 45 UD students are participating in the program. This number is a significant increase from past semesters with only four mentors.
The honor was described as “A formal acknowledgement of [UD Society for Women’s]commitment to our school and enhancing the lives of Irving ISD students” in an email to Society for Women president and co-founder Clare Myers from the dean of students at Barbara Cardwell, Terri Osborne.
Myers and fellow officers Kaitlin Meske, Kayla Nguyen and Nicole Johnson said they are excited to be receiving the distinction.
“It would basically be an official recognition that we’ve been working with them for a while,” Myers said. “We’ve made this commitment to keep working with their students and enhancing lives on both ends. She said, ‘You guys are making things better for our students,’ and I said ‘Well, it’s a reciprocal relationship.’ Our mentors get so much out of the program and it’s exciting for us to be able to have this distinction to mark the progress that we’ve made.”
The four seniors founded the Society for Women during the spring semester of their freshman year, with plans to have campus, community and far-reaching projects. After faculty advisor Pia Septien challenged the women to give the world what they could offer, they determined that they could help high school women in a mentoring role. Since then, the project has become their primaryfocus.
They have not been able to mentor every semester. Several factors go into the process, including a high staff turnover rate at Barbara Cardwell, which makes mentoring impossible some semesters. However, Myers said that the school is working hard to ensure that necessary steps have been taken to streamline the process. The amount of participants has grown exponentially since its inception.
“People here sometimes have difficulty finding where they want to volunteer and the fact that we’ve pitched it as a very condensed version of volunteering makes people realize, ‘This is something I can do,’” Myers said. “People are starting to realize that this is a way they can get involved and be able to fit it into their schedule.”
Osborne said that the commitment from the UD Society for Women is beneficial in many ways to the students at Cardwell. According to Osborne, more than 80 percent of Cardwell students are economically disadvantaged and all students are at-risk. Some are parenting, while others have necessary part-time jobs.
“It’s honestly been huge,” Osborne said. “The goal of our mentoring program is really to help the students value education and for them, the opportunity to talk with adults about their choices and setting goals help them determine a personal direction.”
Osborne has seen the mentoring program increase students’ confidence, promote college and career awareness, and spark new interests and conversations among several students in the school, including those without mentors.
“It offers our girls a greater chance at graduation because we’re already a non-traditional high school,” Osborne said. “Students that do come here are doing anything possible to actually achieve graduation and get a diploma, and it’s just one more way that they actually contribute to these students’ success when maybe they actually are in a situation where they need a second chance to get a diploma.”
The awards ceremony for the society will take place on March 3 at 7 p.m. on campus. Osborne welcomes any and all university students.
“We do invite anyone from the university to come out and support the Women’s Society,” Osborne said. “What they are doing on our campus is absolutely phenomenal and we value it so much.”