COLLEGE students are getting to know their new mentors as part of an innovative project which matches them with professional role models to help plan their future careers.

Learners at the Education Training Collective’s (Etc) Stockton Riverside College, Bede Sixth Form and Redcar and Cleveland College are involved in the scheme, run by national charity The Girls’ Network.

“The Tees Valley is not short of inspiring women, so this is about making connections between them and students,” said Rosalind Stuart, who is heading up the network locally. It launched in the Tees Valley this autumn.

She added: “It is about enabling young people to link with those working in careers that they might not otherwise get to see in their everyday lives.”

For Stockton Riverside College student Mia Thomson, and many like her, it is a chance not only to get to know a professional role model but also build confidence and further skills.

The 17-year-old health and social care student said: “Mentoring isn’t something I have heard of before, but when I got to know more, it sounded ideal.”

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Not short of role models in her life, Mia added: “I have a lot of strong independent women in my family, but it will be nice to have that extra support there, someone who isn’t part of my family or college life.”

The Girls’ Network aims to inspire and empower girls aged 14 to 19 from less advantaged communities.

Rosalind said: “These women are not in the girls’ family or schools and we have found there’s something about talking to someone from outside of those structures that makes the girls open up.”

Bede Sixth Form student Abbie Simmons is certainly looking forward to getting to know her mentor.

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Studying A level law, criminology and religion, philosophy and ethics, she hopes to one day become a diversity and inclusion officer, or work with young people or disadvantaged communities.

Excited to get started on the mentoring scheme, the 18-year-old from Norton said: “A lot of people don’t get an opportunity like this. It’s a great idea and I think it will help me feel more confident in myself.”

Redcar and Cleveland College student Amber Thorpe agrees. Studying childcare, the 19-year-old from Saltburn counts herself as lucky to be in the right place at the right time to access the programme.

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She said: “I think it is an amazing opportunity to gain confidence and knowledge and to reach our future goals in life.”

With funding from the Tees Valley Combined Authority, the project has been driven by Teesside University’s pro-vice chancellor for enterprise and business engagement, Professor Jane Turner.

She said: “We have a moral obligation to do everything we can to make sure that the young women of our region are enabled to build the futures they deserve. Now more than ever, the young women of our region need our support and mentoring is a very powerful support vehicle.”

Tees Valley Network Manager Rosalind added: “We have been overwhelmed by these amazing women who have stepped forward to get involved.”

These are professional women from a diverse range of sectors, all keen to share their knowledge and experience to help motivate others.

Among them, Justine Foxcroft, Change Officer at Darlington Building Society. Growing up in Middlesbrough and now living in Stockton, she said: “When I read about this opportunity it just screamed at me. I know that when I left education and moved into work 10 years ago this is something that could have really benefited me.”

Not having previously considered herself particularly ambitious, it took a couple of attempts to find the job she now loves which has led to her drive to achieve.

What she is keen to share though is that in working life, every experience, even those aspects you don’t enjoy, offer something to learn from.

As a mentor, she said: “I want to be that positive person around work and ultimately I want my mentee to go to work because they enjoy what they do, not just because they have bills to pay.”

Happy to be bringing this opportunity to their students, the Etc.’s director of marketing Erika Marshall said: “Raising the aspirations and ambitions of all our young people is a priority at the Etc. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for these students who, through their mentors and The Girls’ Network, are already tapping into a wealth of knowledge and building the most fantastic links that will no doubt help their own careers to flourish.”