Image of members of the TEAK fellowship Brown University
PHOTO: TEAK Fellowship archives
Service & Advocacy

A Sense of Community
How mentoring has cemented the TEAK program

By James Bernard ’87 / June–August 2021
June 15th, 2021

In 1998, then–seventh grader Rashidah Green ’08 watched Justine Stamen Arrillaga ’92, the founder of her high school and college prep program, the TEAK Fellowship, affix large sticky notes to the walls of the private school basement where TEAK spent its first years. Green and 17 others in the initial cohort were pioneers on a journey involving academic enrichment, social support, and community building. Green’s journey would take her to Andover, Brown, and Howard Medical School. She is now a medical director for the Montefiore Medical Group at one of its Bronx sites. 

Those sticky notes sketched out Arrillaga’s vision for how TEAK would develop. “Eventually, she wanted TEAK alumni to be mentors,” Green says. “I remember being like, ‘I’m going to be a mentor.’ And I made it one of my goals in life to become a TEAK mentor.”

Green now mentors two TEAK fellows. “My goal is to reach out and influence kids who were like me—socioeconomically disadvantaged with lots of potential.”

The sense of community forged in mentorship has been the cornerstone TEAK experience for the 265 alumni and 332 current fellows who have followed in Green’s footsteps. With 27 current and past TEAK fellows, Brown’s connection to the program is particularly robust.

“My mentors from Brown were everything for me personally, and I knew TEAK fellows would need their own mentors,” Arrillaga says now. “The fabric of the TEAK quilt really came together the day the first class graduated from college in 2008 at age 21 and when they were able to step in as mentors to TEAK 7th graders.”

While weighing her undergraduate options, Osayuwamen (“Uwa”) Ede-Osifo ’22, now concentrating in International and Public Affairs, saw Brad Weekes ’17 on a TEAK college panel. “He really helped me understand the environment at Brown. It felt like local knowledge.”

While Weekes was still at Brown, TEAK would organize dinners for the fellows to keep their sense of community alive. “So many students enter these institutions searching for that community, but I already had seven other people who knew my story, who understood me,” he says. After graduation, Weekes served as a teaching assistant during TEAK’s Summer Institute, working with rising eighth and ninth graders who ended up going to Brown.

Ede-Osifo remembers the walls at the TEAK offices. “When you get into high school, you take a photo and you have your high school sweatshirt on. Then four years later when you got into college, you take another photo with your college sweatshirt on. When I was in middle school, I just loved looking at those photos.”

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Related Issue
June–August 2021