I received a wonderful phone call from my friend Meg several weeks ago asking if I’d be interested in a student mentorship opportunity. Meg and I worked together at the University of Kansas. When Meg joined KU, she started teaching while also shooting photography full time. She mentioned a former student of hers from the University of Kansas. Carleigh, she said, is enrolled in the KU Transition to Postsecondary Education program (KU TPE), which allows students with disabilities to earn college credits. She explained how incredibly engageing and intelligent Carleigh is and continued to rave about her. Meg listed the numerous ways Carleigh blew her away during the semester they spent together. She then explained the TPE program was looking for internship or job opportunities and that Carleigh’s team was interested in helping her gain marketing experience. She asked if Carleigh’s team could get in touch with me; I instantly said yes.
A few weeks later, Carleigh and I met at McLain’s Market on campus (fun fact: legendary KU men’s basketball coach Bill Self was there, too, and I was a bit spellbound!) and she explained what she wanted to get from her student mentorship.
Carleigh has an entrepreneurial spirit
We used our first meeting to discuss what she was looking for from this experience. Carleigh is an artist, and she instantly began telling me about how much she loves making art and about the process she uses to paint. She also mentioned Meg helped her fall in love with photography, so she was taking that as a course during the semester. Carleigh also worked for a bakery and her boss there suggested she learn more about marketing, such as making flyers.
I wasn’t sure what knowledge Carleigh hoped to gain working with me, so hearing how much she was learning at KU and through her work experiences gave me some quick insights into what I thought I could help her learn. When I asked her, “Carleigh, what would you like me to help you tackle?” she instantly said, “I want to build a website!” I knew this student mentorship was going to be so much fun.
Carleigh’s vision wasn’t just that she wanted to build a website. She wanted an outlet for selling her artwork. She also has a passion for specific nonprofit organizations, so she said she wanted to use her website to provide funding for these organizations, including KC Pet Project, the KU TPE program, and Camp Barnabas (which she continued to joke was the perfect place to dump her parents for awhile). I was wholeheartedly invested in Carleigh and couldn’t wait to show her what all she could do.
She also shared a self-portrait she painted, which she painted for Kansas City’s The Whole Person, an organization dedicated to providing independence for people with disabilities. Her work was on display through The Whole Person for most of 2021, and the moment I saw her self-portrait, I was excited to bring Carleigh’s website vision to life.
What Carleigh’s student mentorship looked like
After our first meeting, I met weekly with Carleigh and her KU TPE job coach, Brendy. Brendy was so wonderful at helping ask great questions and connecting concepts for Carleigh about how she could take what she was learning into her every day life.
During the course of the semester, we tackled the different needs Carleigh had for her vision. First, we worked together to build Carleigh’s website. From there, we created a business page on Facebook and I showed her how to share content her audience would love. In subsequent weeks, I was even able to show her how to blog and share content from a strategic marketing standpoint. When I told her I’d be blogging about her and her work, she smiled and said, “And I’m going to be blogging about you!” Have I mentioned what a delight Carleigh is?
By the time we ended our semester, she was actively creating blog content, developing fliers, and sharing content on Facebook. I couldn’t have been more proud of her.
Carleigh’s Creations is live
I invite you to go check out Carleigh’s website. Please understand that it is a work in process. It turns out the semester is very short when you’re as willing and able as Carleigh happens to be. We still have a lot of work to do as we work to update her portfolio and add samples to the site. We’re hoping to work together next semester as well, though classes like dance, art, and ceramics, as well as a job at the Spencer Museum of Art, will keep her busy before she’s done studying through the TPE program.
Brendy and I also encouraged her to stay active on her blog and on her Facebook business page so people can see what she’s working on over her winter break. One of the things I learned over the semester is that Carleigh will always give an enthusiastic “YES!” to whatever you ask of her. Two different people approached her about commissioned pieces since she launched her site. I’m so excited to see what the future holds for Carleigh.
I have been so grateful for this student mentorship experience. Carleigh is a joy to work with. And it was truly an honor to teach her the skills that will allow her to continue marketing her art for years to come.