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VOL. 126 | NO. 153 | Monday, August 8, 2011

Smith & Nephew Launches Mentoring Program

By Aisling Maki

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Smith & Nephew Orthopaedics is bolstering school-based corporate mentoring to new heights with its new Scholars Program, a long-term initiative dedicated to cultivating and nurturing the talent of Memphis’ middle and high school students focused on careers in medical technology and business.

The mentoring program, coordinated with the Memphis Grizzlies Charitable Foundation’s TEAM UP Youth Mentoring initiative, is the first of its kind for the company’s Orthopaedic Reconstruction and Trauma division, which is based in Memphis.

The program engages 25 students in grades 8 through 11 for up to five years of mentoring, networking and internships leading up to their departure for college.

“What makes this program unique is that once these students are in the program, unless they have significant deficiencies in meeting our expectations, they will stay in the program from grade 8 until they enter into college,” said Mark Stephens, senior vice president of human resources for Smith & Nephew, the executive in charge of the Scholars Program.

“That’s what makes this program different than many of the others I’ve experienced, where they have one brief intervention for the child, and then it goes away. From my perspective, that’s the last thing these children need because they have a lot of that happen in their lives anyway.”

The Scholars Program draws from the best and brightest of three Memphis charter schools: Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering, Memphis Academy of Health Sciences and the Knowledge Is Power Program.

“MAHS and MASE are closely aligned to our core business, and we chose KIPP as a charter school because we’re really supporters of what they’re doing there and how they’re inspiring young people,” Stephens said.

The initial idea to develop the program arose from insight provided by an African-American orthopedic surgeon employed by Smith & Nephew in the Washington metropolitan area.

“In the orthopedic field, there aren’t a lot of minority surgeons, and he was talking about the value mentoring had made in his life and those things that were instrumental in his career,” Stephens said.

Memphis, a minority-majority city with a robust health care sector, seemed the perfect fit to implement such a mentor-driven model.

“That sort of sparked an idea with us and we decided to create a program here in Memphis. Smith & Nephew is a large part of the community here and we’re always trying to do things to help improve the lives of those around us,” Stephens said.

Students – who are largely African-American and from underserved communities – enrolled in participating schools, are paired for one-on-one mentoring with a company executive who will provide real-world insights and training that go well beyond the classroom experience.

“We know that access to real work and life experience is critical if our KIPP alumni are to become successful college graduates and compelling job applicants in the future,” said KIPP principal Jamal McCall. “Our partnership with Smith & Nephew will do just that; providing our children examples of what’s possible and why college attainment is important. Smith & Nephew employees will be a lifeline for KIPPsters navigating the professional landscape.”

Mentors will meet with students in a school setting several times a month, and students will participate throughout the year in outside activities and events ranging from philanthropic ventures to social excursions such as Memphis Grizzlies games.

The pilot group just wrapped up a weeklong Summer Leadership Summit at Smith & Nephew headquarters, which included tours of the Smith & Nephew-sponsored wing at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital and the nonprofit Medical Education and Research Institute in the medical district.

The summit concluded on July 27 with a formal luncheon at Chez Phillippe Restaurant in The Peabody hotel with Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and executives from Smith & Nephew and the Memphis Grizzlies Leadership Foundation.

“During that process, we exposed the students to Smith & Nephew executives and gave them tactical skills such as public speaking and making presentations,” Stephens said.

Once the current pilot students become high school juniors and seniors, they’ll have access to paid Smith & Nephew internships during the summer. The company will also cover the cost of the students’ SAT and ACT preparation classes, provide access to mentors who will guide them through the college application process, and maintain a relationship with students while in college.

Furthermore, the company has also made provisions for students’ school supplies, including iPads.

The hope is that at least some of those students will return to Memphis with college degrees and opt to settle down in the city.

“We fully recognize that it doesn’t always happen, but if it does, it’s something else that will help bind the students to the community,” Stephens said. “When they finish their degrees, they all too often leave the city. This will be one more tie that will allow them to come back.”

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