SUNY Oswego’s mentoring program Focus Forward has built success in two directions: it helps guide local youth on a path to success while also proving beneficial for its college-student mentors. 

Coordinated by Sean Milligan and Jennifer Joyce, Focus Forward mentors earn valuable leadership and career readiness skills while matched with middle-school and high-school students from participating school districts. Skills gained include National Association of Colleges and Employers competencies in areas like communication, teamwork and professionalism. In a recent interview, Focus Forward participants revealed how the program helped prepare them for life after graduation. 

Many current and former students attest to Focus Forward’s ability to provide students with the leadership opportunities they need to stand out in interviews and applications. 

“I earned a job as a camp counselor and as a substitute teacher because of my experience in Focus Forward,” said Alanna Hill, a team leader at Focus Forward’s Oswego High School site. “I joined Focus Forward my freshman year and realized it was the perfect opportunity to spend time in an instructional position in a classroom setting right away. I knew that the program would give me an edge over other teaching candidates.”

Former mentor and team leader Katie Weber similarly praised Focus Forward for giving her experience in her desired field. “Focus Forward supported my professional networking throughout my college career,” Weber said. “It was because of Focus Forward that I was able to complete some of my field experience as an Education major at the same school where I was a mentor.” 

Career connections

Through Focus Forward, Weber met the school’s principal and several teachers. They saw her talent as an educator, giving her important professional connections to build from. 

“Following graduation I received a job at Pulaski Middle School,” Weber recalled. “I was told to call the summer school principal. When I called the principal, it turned out I had already known him for five years because of Focus Forward.”

Focus Forward is not just for education majors. Psychology major Ava Sanchez, a former team leader at Altmar-Parish-Williamstown Junior/Senior High School, commended the career readiness and networking opportunities gained from the program.

“This program not only allowed me to participate in positive activities with the kids but also gave me the opportunity to make connections that helped me to gain a position as an intern in the same school,” Sanchez said.

Focus Forward students also spoke on how the program not only helped them in their career but also molded them into the young professionals that they are today.  

“I found that my experience in Focus Forward provided me with a low-stakes environment for practicing and improving my skills,” Hill said. “I have also been able to network with other people who are studying or working in education, which has provided me with a strong support system.”

“Being a team leader put me in the position of being responsible for other people,” Weber added. “This was not something I did previously, and it was Focus Forward that taught me how to adjust to new situations.”

Finally, former mentors and team leaders were asked why they would recommend Focus Forward to other SUNY Oswego students. “Focus Forward is a great way to test your leadership and teamwork skills starting as early as your freshman year. It is great for pre-career experience and for those who may consider working in a school one day,” Hill said of the program.

“Focus Forward was the beginning of my future career and I am thankful for the opportunity and tools for success that it has provided me with,” Sanchez said. “I hope that many other students like me take advantage of this opportunity.”

Interested students can learn more and apply to join Focus Forward for the fall 2023 semester by visiting the Focus Forward website.

–- Written by Shayla Rios and Graisa Madden from Focus Forward