Tutor-Mentor Program Students Lead the Way

Center for the Common Good (CCG) assistant director Dustin Killpack leans nostalgic when talking about his journey in building the Tommies Together Volunteer Center (TTVC), but he dodges credit wherever he can.

“We spent days in here,” he said, referring to himself and the cohort of students, now mostly seniors, who worked to establish many of the programs the Center sees thriving today.  “A lot of lessons learned.”

The formation of the TTVC and the CCG – the department that encapsulates TTVC as well as other social change initiatives – has been quite the marathon, but the numbers continue to grow and TTVC continues to expand in new and innovative ways. Last year, TTVC tracked more than 80,000 volunteer hours, and helped more than 3,000 students engage in their communities. This year, the CCG is looking to reach new students through partnerships with Admissions, Athletics and Residence Life, and is deepening impact with preferred partners like Catholic Charities and Keystone Community Services through a variety of student run programs.

Tutor-Mentor's Growth

The largest of the TTVC programs, Tutor-Mentor, originated neither with Killpack, nor with the two student co-directors, Sophia Wolf and Alex Upton.

“Tutor-Mentor had a really vibrant history at St. Thomas,” Killpack said. When CCG was founded as part of President Sullivan’s strategic plan, there was a resounding consensus on campus: Tommies wanted Tutor-Mentor back, and Killpack answered the call.

“In the first year, we were very intentional.  We started with 10 students, and they volunteered every week,” Killpack said. But this first cohort of Tutor-Mentor volunteers got more than they bargained for:  In return for their commitment to helping close the opportunity gap in Minnesota, Killpack made a commitment to his tutors and established one-on-one professional development sessions with them every two weeks. Due in part to this commitment, two students from this first cohort of Tutor-Mentors stayed with TTVC and now oversee, among other things, the biggest volunteer group at the university.

In Tutor-Mentor’s second year, Julia Pohlman - student director of TTVC and a senior majoring in Business Leadership and Management - tripled participation in the program.

“She managed to recruit 30 students and retained them for the entire year,” Killpack said. “No one dropped, which is crazy. She was really intentional and really got to know those students.”

From there, the program continued to grow. In Tutor-Mentor’s third year, Wolf and Upton took over as co-directors under Pohlman’s leadership and, over the full academic year, saw more than 130 students volunteer with their program. Now in its fourth year, the program has already surpassed that number, having sent more than 150 volunteers into classrooms across the Twin Cities in just two months.

Killpack's excitement for what his students have done is palpable.

“I was talking to Sophia about her resume, and I was like, 'Sophia, you can literally put that you increased volunteerism by more than 500 percent [during your time as co-director]. That’s crazy. Not a lot of students get the opportunity to lead programs that are so big.”

The student leadership at the TTVC is a great example of what the Center for the Common Good aims to do, which is put students at the forefront of the university’s efforts in changemaking locally, nationally and globally. Soon, however, that leadership will graduate and go on to shape change in their communities as graduate students and professionals.

“I’m so excited to see the impact they have out there in the real world, but I’m also really sad to see them go. I’ll probably cry,” Killpack said with a laugh. “But that’s the way things work at a university, and new students will have new perspectives and new ideas.”

If you or someone you know is interested in applying to be a student leader in the Tommies Together Volunteer Center, please have them apply through the student employment site – applications open on Nov. 15. Applications to become a Tutor-Mentor for the Spring semester open on Jan. 2.