Linsey (Williams) Donovan ’09 loves working with youth, especially those who are underserved. Nurturing emerging leaders is her life’s work. As director of special education at Thurgood Marshall Academy, a college-preparatory school in Washington, D.C., Donovan helps students prepare for college and supports them with other post-secondary education and training programs. Earlier in her career she worked as a school psychologist serving children in low-income communities, conducting assessments and providing counseling and consultation services. The Le Moyne alumna is especially passionate about mentorship. She knows that college students who have a caring mentor to guide them throughout those years are more likely to achieve their academic and professional goals, to volunteer regularly, and to take on leadership roles. They are more positive about the future in general.
Donovan is executive director of New Levels Mentorship Network (NLMN), an organization she co-founded with her husband, William Donovan, that matches underrepresented first-generation college students with professional mentors in their area of interest. NLMN seeks to reduce barriers to entering the professional world. Donovan created New Levels with listening, teaching and modeling at its core. Mentors and mentees meet at least once a month, either in person or virtually, to talk about subjects like goal setting, networking and résumé building. Mentees have the opportunity to ask critical questions of their mentors, such as: What do you know now that you wish you’d known before you began your career? In return, mentors deliver honest feedback, and guide, motivate and inspire. The primary task for the participants is to be present and open.
“Both my husband I are first-generation college graduates, and we know how valuable the feedback, advice and support of a mentor can be, especially as you are navigating your way through college and preparing to launch your career,” she said. “We founded New Levels out of a desire to give back. Our aim is to ensure that our mentees have access to an experienced professional who can not only help them to navigate their college experience, but also help them solve problems and celebrate their successes as they grow in their careers.”
To identify mentors, the Donovans tap into their personal and professional networks and ask friends and colleagues if they would consider mentoring a student or sharing information about NLMN with their peers. Those who are interested in mentoring then submit an application, followed by an interview. The same process is used to recruit mentees. They use their networks at their alma maters and in their communities to get the word out and encourage students to apply. At this point, they are not turning away students as long as they are able to find a suitable match.
A Syracuse native, Donovan was drawn to Le Moyne because of its tight-knit atmosphere. She wanted to form close relationships from her professors, which she did. Beyond that, she took part in numerous service-learning projects, helping to restore city parks and working with pre-school children through Americorp’s Jumpstart Program. The Jesuit mission of service to others continues to guide her in her work today.
“My time at Le Moyne prepared me to be a critical thinker about solving issues within my community,” she said. “Participating in service learning projects encouraged these thought processes along with my time participating in the student organization P.O.W.E.R. where we focused a lot of our efforts on community service.
“My hope for New Levels Mentorship Network is for it to grow into an international network that will continue to help young people of color advance in their career fields by developing true and sustaining relationships with their mentors and peers for many years to come.”
Linsey Donovan ’09 is a recipient of the inaugural “Phins Under 40 Award. Click here to learn more about ‘Phins Under 40.