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Grateful to his mentors, Rishawn Dhir formed his own mentorship club

Rishawn Dhir's Aspire to Inspire mentorship club has helped hundreds of high school students ease the application and transition process for university-bound high school students. (Photo by Ken Jones)

When you’re still in high school, you have a lot of questions about the university experience. And while guidance teachers offer a lot, wouldn’t you also like to hear the views of real university students, close to your own age?

That’s what Rishawn Dhir thought after he got to UTSC. He felt grateful to the people who mentored him in high school and in first year, and he decided to try to duplicate that support for current high school students.

So last year he formed Aspire to Inspire, a registered student club which in the Fall term began sending trained student mentors into local high schools to make presentations about everything from choosing a university and getting financial support to coping with stress and deciding whether to live in residence.

Dhir’s hope is that as some of the high school students come to UTSC, they will continue to be mentored by Aspire to Inspire members, and later become mentors themselves.

“The major reason I started this was because of the support I had in high school,” says Dhir, a second-year student doing a double major in neuroscience and health studies with a minor in biology.

Initially, he says, he felt quite nervous about moving on to university, but his guidance counsellors were a big help. So was a UTSC lab manager, since graduated, whom he met while doing a Grade 12 co-op in the lab of Biology Professor and Canada Research Chair Maydianne Andrade, another mentor.

“I began to see that the success I was having was all because of my mentors,” says Dhir, who plans to go into medicine. “I wanted others to have this as well.”

Dhir contacted UTSC’s Department of Student Life, where Scott MacDonald, then campus life & special events coordinator, helped him set up the group and get advice from other Student Life staff.

“It’s wonderful to see students develop themselves as leaders,” says MacDonald, now global mobility coordinator for Student Life. “And from what I’m hearing about what Aspire to Inspire has done, it’s fantastic.”

Using Facebook and word of mouth, Dhir and his executive recruited and trained some 16 mentors from among 60 applicants. After contacting guidance teachers at four local high schools, the Aspire to Inspire mentors began giving monthly presentations in cross-disciplinary groups of three.

The two-hour sessions, normally held outside of class hours, attract up to 30 students at a time, says Dhir. “At one school, we reached 500 students, because the guidance teacher invited us to all her classes in Grade 11 and 12.”

Parents also often attend the initial session. Currently the group is working with Lester B. Pearson Collegiate, West Hill Collegiate and Woburn Collegiate in Scarborough, and J. Clarke Richardson Collegiate in Ajax.

Dhir intends to add many other schools, including his own Pickering alma mater, Dunbarton, once the group has worked through its first year.

The mentors deliberately avoid trying to recommend UTSC above other institutions – often noting the strengths of various universities – but inevitably many of the experiences and anecdotes they talk about come from UTSC.

Next fall, some of the Grade 12 mentees will likely arrive at UTSC and, Dhir hopes, will eventually go back to their high schools and mentor others.  “it will establish the full circle that is our goal,” he says. “I really want Aspire to Inspire to be sustainable, because I’m not going to be here forever.”



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