Ellen Silber

Mentoring Latinas
Purpose Prize Fellow 2008

Mentoring at-risk Latina teens into college and better lives

As a Marymount College professor, Ellen Silber helped bring women’s studies into mainstream academic life. At 63, directing a leadership workshop for Latina adolescent girls, she read some numbers that astounded her: Latina teens have the highest rates among U.S. adolescents for pregnancy, leaving school and lifetime use of alcohol and cocaine. Their rates of attempted suicide are 150 percent higher than other teens’. Mentoring Latinas had always seemed a good idea to Silber, but suddenly it was an urgent calling. Silber saw that the girls in her leadership workshop bonded strongly with college women who could be role models. She set up Mentoring Latinas, recruited Marymount College Latina students to work with middle-school Hispanic girls, and enlisted a local school superintendent to help in matching them. Mentoring Latinas has served over 250 adolescent Latinas and their parents and engaged over 85 Hispanic mentors. Evaluations show that mentees experience a significant rise in self-esteem and improved grades in science and English. “Suddenly Hispanic girls became my sisters, or more appropriately at my age, my daughters, and so I was responsible for them.”