From Public Housing to Director of Housing

Posted by Judy Anne Cavey on Feb 7, 2012 in , , | No Comments

We are happy to present the fourth in our series of guest blogs…

The bloggers will be giving you glimpse into their personal mentor/mentee experiences. Some spotlighted relationships may have grown into deep personal friendships, while others might be purely business in nature–mentees observing their mentor at work. No matter the depth of the relationship, mentees will testify to the importance of their mentors. Guest blog posts will appear, sporadically, but always on a Tuesday.

Mrs. Yolanda Norman is the Director of Housing and Residence Life at The University of St. Thomas and has over 10 years of experience in Higher Education. As a first-generation college graduate, she is passionate about access to higher education and providing resources to student groups underrepresented on college campuses. You can read more on her blog or find her on Twitter.


As an inner-city youth growing up in one of the largest public-housing projects in Memphis, Tennessee, I had to be very careful when it came to finding “mentors”. Teenage pregnancies, high school dropouts, and loss of life were all too common events surrounding me. I could have quickly allowed my environment to be an influence, steering me in the same direction. Thankfully, I had the presence of my mother, who instilled hard work and determination in our family which she role modeled on a daily basis, as a single parent. You see, my mother wasn’t a college graduate and couldn’t tell me the ins and outs of applying and graduating with a higher education degree. However, what she was, and always will be, is my greatest mentor. Why, you ask? It was because she talked about being the best I could be and she had a knack for introducing me to others that could help me understand the college world when she couldn’t.

Fast forward to my entrance to college (yes I actually got there), I continued to listen to the advice of my mom and translate her “real world” lessons into the world of my college campus. She told me “don’t give up”, so I made sure that when I couldn’t understand material that the professor was teaching, I was first in line during her office hours. She always said, “you’ve got to keep your head up”, and I knew that meant when I didn’t make the grade I wanted on a quiz, I had to stay positive, keep going, and try to improve on the next opportunity. And when it came to going through a college problem that she, nor I, knew how to deal with, I followed that role modeling she taught me at home–surrounding myself with those that can help. My college coaches, university staff, and classmates all became my extra support.

As you go through your college journey, especially if you are a first-generation college student, understand who is in your support network. They can come from all walks of life and collectively be able to share experiences that should help you to successfully complete your ultimate goal…graduation. Having a mentor is an amazing gift. Being able to share your wins and challenges with others is an added bonus. Finally, as you build your support network of mentors, don’t forget to reach out to others that you too can mentor. You’ve had a chance to learn from the experiences of others, now it’s your time to be the teacher!