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Introducing SL2College Mentor Program

Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction. ~ John Crosy

The university application process can be a daunting task for many Sri Lankan students, both at the graduate and the undergraduate level. The application process for Sri Lankan public universities or private foreign-degree granting Sri Lankan institutes tends to be more transparent, accessible, and is modeled in a formulaic way that is easily processed. However, the application process to foreign universities is a dynamic one, and hardly follows a formula. Aside from admissions professionals, the process is typically explained best by those who have, in essence, gone through the fire.

It is into this setting that mentoring comes into play. Created in August 2010, the 'SL2College Mentor Program' aims to assist prospective Sri Lankan university students with their higher education abroad by connecting foreign graduates who spent their high school and/or college years in Sri Lanka, with current Sri Lankan students looking to further their studies abroad. In many instances, successful foreign graduates who completed some part of their education in Sri Lanka, have had mentors who have helped them through the process, albeit informally. The 'SL2College Mentor Program' brings such connections under one portal, creating a community of mentors and mentees that can interact via a common forum.

Mentoring a prospective university student can be a truly rewarding experience. Mentors have the opportunity to guide a prospective university student by sharing their insights and experiences. Mentors also get the opportunity to strengthen and enhance their mentoring skills, which is becoming an essential skill in the corporate workplace. This is also a way for Mentors to give back to Sri Lanka in a tangible way, whereby the joy of a Mentor's labor is directly experienced when a Mentee achieves his/her academic objectives. The relationship between Mentor and Mentee is one of trust, and allows meaningful conversations to take place. Such conversations impact the thinking process, attitudes/perceptions, and the behavior of the mentee. Also having access to a Mentor who has experience in the Mentee's area of interest could be of great benefit in the Mentee's key decisions. SL2College will coordinate the Mentor/Mentee selection process to ensure that the partnership between the Mentor and the Mentee is a synergistic one.

Volunteering one's self to be a mentee also brings rich rewards. It is a privilege for prospective university students who have the dedication and motivation to see the fruition of their goals. Mentees will be given the prospect of reflecting on their own experience by relating their personal situation, issues or problems. Of course, we at SL2College understand that the 'opening up' process is one that takes time – however, it is difficult to match a Mentee well unless he/she takes the first step to address a particular situation. Potential Mentees can be sure that the 'SL2College Mentor Program' administrators will keep personal details in confidence.

How else are Mentees benefited? Mentees will be assisted when they encounter particularly challenging situations - for example, it is common for Mentors to provide feedback on the 'statement of purpose', which is a requirement for a Master's program in USA and Canada. Mentees will also get to hear the thoughts of qualified students, as they discuss their lives in universities and how they overcame various challenges. It is evident that this program will give a Mentee personal attention.

And the sticker price for this? Nothing. We only hope that you will decide to give back as a mentor when you pass through the application process and gain experience abroad.

Currently, the SL2College Mentor database exceeds 40, and we have created successful partnerships between 22 pairs of Mentors & Mentees during the past year. Most of our current Mentees are Sri Lankan students looking to pursue their Masters and/or PhD's.

This year we are looking to increase awareness particularly at the high school level, and are encouraging high school students in Sri Lanka (those in grades 11-13 in the public school system) to sign up as Mentees. We are particularly interested in expanding this program to those students who lack the resources/sophistication or have little experience or the know how to seek/engage these resources. This is particularly true of first generation students in public high schools in Sri Lanka (first generation meaning those students whose parents have not had any education past high school).

We hope that your interest has been piqued and that you decide to join the SL2College Mentor Program, either as a Mentor or a Mentee. The guidelines for each role, together with the application links can be found at http://links.sl2college.org/mentor-program. Feel free to contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you have any questions. We can't say if mentoring was what W. Churchill had in mind when he declared that 'we make a living by what we get, (but) we make a life by what we give'. But it sure does apply, and we hope you decide to step into the cycle.

The Mentor program at SL2College is led by Ayaska Fernando (writer of this article) and Dayan Wickramaratne.

Date of publication in the Sunday Observer: October 09, 2011

This and other related articles are available on www.sl2college.org, under the resources section. SL2College is a global community that provides FREE advice and guidance to Sri Lankan students. Envisioned in 2005, SL2College helps Sri Lankan students access relevant information that would assist them in making informed decisions about their educational goals. Please post your queries on: www.sl2college.org or email - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



July 2011 Newsletter is out. Read about what is happening at SL2College

SL2College Newsletter - April 2011

Advancing the Sri Lankan tradition of free education - www.SL2College.org

As a student have you ever wondered: Are there options in higher education if I don't excel in the Advanced Level examination? How do I find them? If I am applying to competitive degree programmes overseas how do I strengthen my application to increase my chances of getting selected? What are the chances of getting a scholarship? How do I find other students from the same field that I would like to be in?

As parents have you ever wondered: What higher education options are there in Sri Lanka versus overseas in a particular field? How can my child get into one of those programmes? How much does it cost?

Answers to these and more questions, which are unbiased and directly from Sri Lankan students and faculty, are at your fingertips at SL2College.

Envisioned in 2005, SL2College is a non-profit organisation which provides advice and guidance to Sri Lankan students regarding higher education opportunities in Sri Lanka and overseas. Students can ask questions on the website forum or refer to previous threads, join the mentor program, log into a chat room to talk to advisers, refer to the resources section on the website and get involved in many more activities. It would assist them in making informed decisions about their educational goals. All services are completely free and the organisation is run by passionate Sri Lankans from Asia, Australia, Europe and North America. SL2College believes that every student has the potential to succeed and the organisation would like to help everyone reach their higher education goals. For more information, visit www.sl2college.org.

This article looks at the reasons behind the formation of SL2College, ongoing projects that students can make use of at any stage in their educational path and future plans at SL2College.

CHALLENGES FACED BY SRI LANKAN STUDENTS

Sri Lanka is one of few countries in the world to provide free education to its people. It is therefore no surprise that Sri Lankans have such a high literacy rate and have so many students pursuing higher education. The number of higher education options available to students have increased greatly over the past few years. However, a student who wants to pursue higher education has to consider various factors and face many challenges.

One of the biggest challenges is the lack of seats in local public universities. Statistics over the years show that despite 60% of students who take the Advanced Level examination qualify to enter university, only 14-16% are admitted. This lack of space in public universities mean that many students must consider alternative options. Also, the lack of accurate information and guidance available to students is a cause for concern. Numerous 'agencies' claim to send students abroad, but they are not free and it can be an expensive process. The number of options and universities provided by these agencies might be a handful compared to what the student is actually qualified for and capable of achieving. Higher education should not be considered lightly or left in the hands of people hoping to make money off unsuspecting students and parents.

BEGINNINGS OF SL2COLLEGE

In 2005, Nayana Samaranayake was studying for his Masters in Computer Science at Stanford University, USA. Based on his own experience he knew first hand the challenges a Sri Lankan student has to face when applying to higher education institutions abroad. That year he formed an interactive forum on Yahoo! groups which allowed students in Sri Lanka to ask questions about applying for higher education in USA and those who had experience in the relevant field could answer. It created a platform that gave students access to free, unbiased and up-to-date information. Following the overwhelming response to this group, Nayana was joined by Nishad Jayasundara and DC Jayasundera, fellow students at Stanford University, and Sanjaka Wirasingha, who was studying at Illinois Institute of Technology at that time. In 2008, they formed www.sl2college.org, SL2College's own website.

FIRST OF ITS KIND

SL2College, largely based online, may be the first of its kind in Sri Lanka. It became a legal entity in Sri Lanka through the incorporation of the organisation as S L 2 College (Guarantee) Limited by the Registrar General of Companies on December 17, 2010.

Today, it has become a global community of volunteers who have joined from not only USA, but also from Canada, Australia, UK, Singapore, New Zealand and many other countries. These volunteers are mostly graduate students from diverse backgrounds and many of them have high school and undergraduate experience from Sri Lanka. They share their own experiences so that Sri Lankan students who plan to pursue higher education can learn about the best local and foreign choices available to them. Some common topics of discussion include how to present the best application possible, what it is like to live on a campus in a foreign land, funding and scholarship opportunities, work experiences and much more.

FREE SERVICES

SL2College strongly believes that information about higher education should not come with a price tag and therefore all of its services are provided free of charge. It should be stressed that SL2College will never partner, get sponsorships or any other financial/non-financial assistance from organisations that make profit from education related activities. SL2College believes that it will lead to a conflict of interest and will hamper their efforts of being completely unbiased.

SL2College has worked closely with many key local and foreign organisations, such as the Fulbright Commission and other government institutions. Some of the biggest education exhibitions in Sri Lanka, such as Edex and Future Minds, have recognised the important role of providing free, unbiased and up-to-date information in the education arena, and have given SL2College free space at their exhibitions.

ONGOING PROJECTS

The greatest aspect of SL2College is perhaps the opportunity it has provided for past and present Sri Lankan students and faculty living abroad to give back to Sri Lanka and be involved in a common cause – that is, to help all Sri Lankans achieve their higher education goals and in turn, develop Sri Lanka's human capital.

There are a number of services offered at SL2College. They include:

1) Forum:

This is one of the most used resources on the SL2College website www.sl2college.org. Students seeking information and guidance can post questions on the forum and moderators ensure that all questions are answered in a timely manner. If a question goes unanswered for 48 hours, moderators go out of their way to find someone who can shed light on the question. The forum acts as a platform to create dialogue, where information related to many fields and countries are discussed. New visitors to the website can browse past threads to gain information on previously discussed topics.

2) Articles:

SL2College encourages past and present undergraduate and graduate students, and those who have completed professional degrees, to share their educational experiences by answering questionnaires and writing articles. These are published weekly in the Sunday Observer's Education section where SL2College has its own column. It is also published on the resources page of the website. Articles range from advice on the application process, funding issues, housing in different countries and more.

3) Mentor Program:

Students who are interested in higher education and are planning on applying to programs within 12 months are matched with an experienced mentor for a direct, one-on-one exchange of information and guidance for 3-4 months. Mentors and mentees who are interested in joining the program can visit http://links.sl2college.org/mentor-program.

4) SL2College events calendar:

Events related to higher education organised in Sri Lanka are posted on the SL2College calendar at www.sl2college.org. These include SL2College events, exhibitions, seminars by the US-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission, etc.

5) "Live" Web Chats and webinars:

These sessions take place in a chat room or via Skype, where graduate students in various countries will be available 'live' and students joining from Sri Lanka can ask questions regarding their higher education ambitions. For upcoming sessions, refer to the calendar on the website.

6) Seminars at Local Schools/Universities:

Information seminars are conducted at local universities and schools to discuss higher education opportunities in different countries. Lately, seminars involving Skype sessions have been organised on a regular basis and have been one of the most popular events at university level. The virtual panel provides a medium for a live discussion and gives undergraduate students the opportunity to learn and seek advice from graduate students.

7) University Clubs:

SL2College clubs in universities are an extension of the main SL2College organisation. Club members organise events that promote higher education and highlight many opportunities in pursuing further education locally and abroad. Students can help coordinate SL2College's activities within Sri Lanka and interact with other institutions such as the US-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission, National newspapers, Interact and Rotaract networks. Students have the opportunity of working with Sri Lankans in global companies and prestigious universities worldwide.

8) Adviser Base: Country teams

SL2College is continuing to expand and diversify its adviser base. There are currently 175 advisers (who are mostly past and present graduate students) with educational background from Sri Lanka, USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, Thailand, India, China, Nepal, Bangladesh, Russia, Latvia, Spain and the Netherlands. SL2College country teams have formed in Sri Lanka, USA, Canada, Singapore and UK. Advisers join these teams in various capacities such as a forum adviser, skype session adviser, mentor, writer, etc. They work on projects to inform Sri Lankan students of opportunities in those respective countries.

9) 'The Insider':

A newsletter, 'The Insider', is published on a quarterly basis and made available to all members. It gives everyone an update of events held at SL2college, introduction of new team members and upcoming projects.

10) Social media:

SL2College has an online presence on various forms of social media such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

11) The Blog:

Articles written by members at SL2College and news items pertaining to higher education in Sri Lanka are posted on the blog. SL2College encourages readers to discuss these items and create a dialogue. It will also allow writers of articles to communicate with readers. The SL2College blog is found at: sl2college.blogspot.com.

NEW INITIATIVES

The latest venture launched by SL2College is the 'Brain-Gain' initiative that encourages Sri Lankan graduates to return to Sri Lanka to work and contribute towards the development of the country. This is currently being done by publicising local internships and full-time job opportunities through the website. SL2College will also connect with people who have returned to Sri Lanka after studying or working abroad, and create a forum to discuss issues related to moving back to Sri Lanka (such as legal, logistical, etc). Such efforts continue to grow in many more avenues as SL2College becomes a truly Sri Lankan visionary establishment.

The SL2College US Chapter is about to launch a new project in which Sri Lankan professors in the US will give a talk pertaining to their research and subject matter to university students in Sri Lanka. The intent of this lecture series is to make Sri Lankan students aware of current research programs in US and to build research collaborations between US universities and Sri Lankan faculty in local universities. It will give local students the opportunity to communicate in real time, in an academic setting, with Sri Lankan professors in US. Currently, several professors from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Mississippi, Texas State University, Clarkson College and College of Atlantic will be participating in this project.

SL2College is only as strong as its volunteer member base and is therefore encouraging more Sri Lankan students and professionals to join the organisation. We all know that Sri Lankan students have much potential. Now, through SL2College we can all work together to give back to the country we all call "home". To share your experiences and suggestions, or to get more details on any of the services at SL2College, please write to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Thank you!

This article has been written by the SL2College Editorial Team.

SL2College Newsletter - Jan 2011 is out!