Inspire Santa Fe program pairs students with mentors from professional world

THE SANTA FE NEW MEXICAN: October 5, 2014, By Robert Nott

Zach Gutierrez sat with his arms slightly raised in front of his chest as if taking a defensive position in a fight — no surprise, given the De Vargas Middle School student’s love of boxing. He was contemplating a different kind of challenge: signing up for a new mentorship program that would require him to show up two hours a week to learn about his other passion — computers.

He’d like to design new apps, learn how to take a computer apart and fix it, and deal with interactive programs. But there’s something in this deal that scares him more than taking a right cross: “I don’t want to be seen as a geek.”

Still, he’s interested. “Who knows if I’m ever gonna have this chance again?” he said.

The city of Santa Fe, working with several community partners, including the nonprofits Academy for the Love of Learning and Siete del Norte, is launching a citywide pilot mentoring program called Inspire Santa Fe this year. Mayor Javier Gonzales announced the plan last week in the courtyard of the Luna complex on Cerrillos Road.

The idea is to match students ages 12 to 19 who have a passion in a particular field with an adult professional mentor who shares that passion. The mentor and student work together to design the specifics of the program. An art student, for instance, may spend the entire two hours drawing or painting with a mentor, or break that time up with visits to art galleries, researching famous artists or a combination of all thosecomponents.

Speaking by phone, the mayor said he hopes to be a mentor in the program. “It’s all about tapping into the passion of a young individual and helping them realize that passion can lead to a bright future … and contribute to their personal lives,” he said.

One day last week, Seth Biderman of the Academy for the Love of Learning — one of three coordinators for the Inspire Santa Fe program — interviewed five De Vargas Middle School students about the mentorship. Biderman said the program’s goal is to help the kids “be successful at whoever they are.”

Principal Marc Ducharme recommended the students to Biderman after talking with each of them individually. Some may have a reputation as troublemakers, others are just gifted, Ducharme said. All of them want a shot at learning more about a professional field.

De Vargas eighth-grader Fabiola Rodriguez has been making art since she was a little kid. “When I draw, I put all my emotion in my art,” she told Biderman. “If I’m sad, I would draw something sad.” She draws every day and is particularly fond of animé. Biderman explained that if she signs up for the program (students must sign a contract committing to the deal for nine months), she would be expected to put together a portfolio and display her art in a public setting by the end of the next semester.

“That sounds really nice,” Rodriguez said. Biderman asked her to visualize her mentor — male, female, young, old, cartoonist, photographer?

“It doesn’t matter as long as they can teach me well,” she said. The program will serve at least 50 youths this year, including students from private, charter and public schools.

The city is investing about $35,000 into the program. Students don’t have to pay anything for the program, and mentors volunteer for free. Students do have to find transportation to visit their mentors on a regular basis.

Gutierrez said Inspire Santa Fe appeals to him. “I want to be one of those guys who works for Microsoft or Apple,” he said.

For more information on the program visit Contact Robert Nott at 986-3021 or