Great work, awful name

PSU’s Friendtorship program pulling up those who fall through the cracks

There’s no getting around it: These days, everyone seems to have a plan to help at-risk teens.

Portland State’s Friendtorship program is one of the latest plans designed for this purpose. Now in its second year, the Friendtorship program seeks to fulfill one simple goal: get young people—specifically those who haven’t considered college as a part of their futures—interested in higher education.

PSU’s Friendtorship program pulling up those who fall through the cracks

Considering the amount of good this program does, both for the students it seeks to help and for the undergraduates getting experience teaching and mentoring, it is safe to say that Friendtorship deserves recognition for all it can, has and will achieve.

This program brings together students in PSU’s graphic design program and at-risk youth at the Centennial Learning Center. Although the definition is a little vague, “at-risk youth” are generally those facing issues such as youth violence, crime, substance abuse, poor academic performance, absent parents or any number of other situations.

At-risk youth tend to have more trouble accessing higher education, and in many cases they do not consider it as a viable option for their future. Without help, these young people are more likely to engage in dangerous activities or live below the poverty line as adults.

Programs designed to help at-risk youth often don’t take into account all the factors that can make someone at-risk, and a good amount fail to personalize their approaches. This is where the Friendtorship program shines.

The mentors in the program (graphic design undergraduates) especially appreciate individuality. Many of these students view art and design as a means of self-expression, and a respect for that expression can be seen in practically all of them. If anyone is going to see the value in personalizing an approach to suit someone’s needs, it’s going to be them.

The students they mentor are also likely to respond well if they’re treated as individuals rather than a demographic. In most institutions this is difficult to achieve. But the PSU Friendtorship program has the unique ability to do this.

And for these student mentors, the Friendtorship program offers rewards in all facets of their lives.

First off: this is solid, practical volunteer experience. Undergraduates generally have to search high and low for good opportunities to volunteer in their field. It’s especially difficult to find volunteer gigs that have tangible rewards or results. But for graphic design students, the Friendtorship program makes it easy to find relevant, rewarding experiences.

This also looks good on a resume. One of the things that employers look for in potential employees is documented volunteer experience—preferably in their own field. Many employers also look for leadership experience, whether in the form of team leading or teaching.

The Friendtorship program is exactly what these employers dream of. Students gain leadership experience and show great empathy in this program. The blog the students run can also provide the option for potential employers to look at exactly what the students did. Additionally, these students get to work in teams and document their work online.

The documentation, which is really more of a blog, is a nice bonus for these students, as it’s another place to show off their work. Portfolio-worthy pieces could be described or displayed on this blog. Increased visibility is and has always been important for the artist.

But equally important are the connections these students are making. Not only are they making connections with their classmates and teachers, as every student does, but they’re also networking with community members, from their mentees to the parents to teachers and beyond. They’re making themselves recognizable to a larger group of people, and in doing so they are creating a name for themselves.

Perhaps the best part from the view of an outsider is the legacy this program shapes for itself. While there is no guarantee that the students in this program will enter a graphic design program, they will still be more likely to reach out to people who are in the same situations that they were. Whether this is through a program like Friendtorship or something else, the legacy remains.

The Friendtorship program needs support. Moreover, it should expand into other areas of the universety. Perhaps the Friendtorship program could encompass the music or creative writing departments, too. It could form a liaison with fellow outreach program MESA—Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement. Its influence could spread even further.

For now, though, the Friendtorship program is accomplishing what it set out to do. It has already encouraged some of its participants to start thinking about college a little more seriously.

It’s safe to say we can expect good things from this program.