My older brother’s mentor really set the path for me.
Distinguished Professor of Education, UCLA
Los Angeles, CA
I was raised in Brooklyn, NY by my parents who were immigrants, neither of whom graduated from high school. Although they valued education, they didn’t understand how the college application process worked. Nonetheless, all six of my siblings have gone to college and we’ve done well academically.
It all started because my older brother, a well-rounded student, had a high school history teacher who decided to mentor him. With his mentor’s help and his suggestion that he apply, my brother ended up going to Harvard, which was incredible because my brother and I both attended high schools where most kids didn’t go to college at all.
I was four years younger than my brother and I would go visit him at Harvard. It was that exposure that demystified the experience for me. I realized I was as smart as those students. I ended up going to Brown, but I was initially intimidated because I was surrounded by very wealthy students who went to prep schools—one of my classmates was John F. Kennedy, Jr.
During my sophomore year, something similar to what happened to my brother happened to me. I took a sociology class taught by professor Martin Martel and he liked that I was an engaged student. He invited me to chat during his office hours, and I did. I had the humility to allow myself to be mentored. I say it that way because if I had come in with the attitude that I knew it all or I didn’t need this guy because he didn’t understand me, I wouldn’t have been able to benefit from his mentorship. Martin encouraged me to get a Master’s degree and be a teaching assistant while I was still an undergraduate at Brown, and he encouraged me to pursue a Ph.D. and told me how I could get the funds to do it.
Martin’s mentorship opened doors for me that I never knew existed, but it was my older brother’s mentor who really set the path for me and my siblings. A lot of times, that’s the way it works in families: you educate one and then all benefit.
Pedro Noguera, Ph.D., is a distinguished professor of education at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA.