Mentoring Behind the Scenes
Sarah Bornstein does not make posters
Sarah Bornstein does not make posters
Sarah Bornstein knew she wanted a small college in a city. She felt partial to women’s colleges, as well: “I went to a co-ed high school, and noticed that when the boys weren’t there, the discussions were better,” she says. Chatham seemed like a good choice, and when a friend she admired went off to Chatham (Natalie Dingle Bazzell, ’67), it sealed the deal.
Sarah was a Chatham Scholar, which meant that to a large degree, she was able to take the classes that interested her, bypassing many curricular requirements. She studied a lot of political science, history, and philosophy. In fact, “I probably would’ve been a history major, but in the 1960’s, political science was the go-go major,” says Sarah. “That was a big deal, to be a Chatham Scholar. It definitely kept me there.”
Sarah remembers protesting the war in Vietnam at Chatham. “It was the 60’s, and we were involved in protesting in what I would describe as a very ladylike way,” she says. “We started an organization called ‘Chatham Students Against the War in Vietnam’. Student organizations had to be approved by the student activities board before they were able to receive any money, but we wanted to attend a demonstration in Washington that came up before we were approved. So, under the auspices of the student government, of which I was the president, I took $100, and put down ‘trip’ as the reason. I remember one of my friends who was the president of the student activities board nervously coming up to me and saying ‘Sarah—what was this trip?’ She was afraid I had taken it out for myself! We still laugh about that.”
During the summer between her junior and senior years, Sarah took history classes at the University of Pennsylvania. “The professor asked me if I went to a girl’s school. And I said I do, why do you ask? And he said ‘because the co-eds here at Penn are afraid to speak up.”
“That summer, I went to a McCarthy for President meeting,” and when they saw me, they said ‘Good, we need some girls to make posters.’
After graduating from Chatham, Sarah was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at Rutgers University, pursuing a PhD in American History. She passed her qualifying exams and earned her Master’s, but, she says, “as I started my dissertation; I realized that I liked reading other people’s work more than pursuing primary research.” She left the program and has never regretted it.
In the meanwhile, Sarah married, and moved with her husband to Chicago. There, she became involved with the Junior League of Chicago, a volunteer service organization for women where her talents as a mentor shone. She was involved with a program called “Next Steps for Teen Moms” where she met Tajraya, a young woman to whom she would become an important mentor. Tajraya had a baby at 17, and she later told Sarah how much she appreciated it that Sarah never gave her advice per se, but was always in her corner, on the other end of the phone, cheering her on.
“That kind of environment (volunteering) is really rich for mentoring,” says Sarah. “There’s more freedom and opportunities to experiment.” In 1998, Sarah won the Mercedes Mentoring Award for her volunteer work. “People I’ve never talked to were coming up to me and saying ‘You were such a good mentor to me’. A lot of mentoring comes from observation; it’s not necessarily official.”
That was the case with the woman whom Sarah thinks of as her most important mentor: Mary Virginia Bowden, who served as Chair of the Chatham Board of Trustees when Sarah was an alumna representative. “She was so poised, so influential in her quiet and distinguished way,” says Sarah. “And she was a pioneer, as a woman who became involved in finance in the 1940s and 1950s. She probably didn’t even know she was my mentor!”
Today, Sarah volunteers at a local food bank. “The volunteer coordinator and I are good friends, but it’s not a mentor/mentee relationship,” she says.
That she knows, anyway.