Brandeis Magazine

Winter 2023/2024

The Life-Changing Impact of Mentorship

By Chris Quirk

Jolecia Saunderson ’24 and Shakiva Pierre ’07

Jolecia Saunderson ’24 and Shakiva Pierre ’07

Students trying to envision their post-graduation professional path often have only a foggy notion of what the future might entail. But an experienced mentor can dissolve the mist around a professional goal, show students what a particular career is like, and help them navigate their way.

For Jolecia Saunderson ’24, who intends to enter the legal field, it was especially important to find a mentor who could also serve as a role model. “This field can be a little difficult sometimes,” she says. “I wanted to be empowered, and having a mentor who is a woman of color working in law was something I was really looking for.”

So Saunderson reached out to Sara Shostak, director of the Vic ’63 and Bobbi Samuels ’63 Center for Community Partnerships and Civic Transformation (COMPACT), who recommended she join a pilot mentoring program run in collaboration with the Hiatt Career Center’s Rise Together Mentor Network. Saunderson was then paired with alumni mentor Shakiva Pierre ’07, an associate court attorney at the New York State Unified Court System, has worked extensively in the nonprofit world on issues like children’s rights and special-education law.

“As a Brandeis graduate and a Posse Scholar, the pillars of community service and giving back continue to be very important to me,” Pierre says.

Pairing experienced Rise Together mentors like Pierre with students like Saunderson is a key initiative at COMPACT, which opened in 2023 after University Fellow Bobbi Samuels ’63 and her family presented Brandeis with a $10 million gift to create the center.

Before COMPACT launched, Shostak met with student leaders from the Waltham Group to talk about how the new center could support them. “Their request was clear,” she says. “They wanted a program that would empower them to find jobs and internships aligned with their social justice commitments, tell the story of their community engagement and leadership in cover letters and resumes, understand career opportunities in the nonprofit sector, and integrate their passions for social justice in jobs outside the nonprofit sector.”

For Saunderson, who wants to use her talents to make the world a better place, the opportunity to learn from Pierre — who, like her, is a native New Yorker — has been immensely beneficial.

Pierre has even taken Saunderson to the busy Manhattan housing court where she regularly consults with judges and attorneys to keep complex legal gears moving.

Having a front-row view of Pierre on the job was both informative and inspirational, Saunderson says. “It was very cool to see what my future could look like. And to see her interacting with the judge, it was a big moment for me as a young student of color.”