Case Western Reserve University third-year political science student Rufus Black was looking for something to fill his free time in the fall of 2021 when he responded to an ad he saw on a student job board. The TRIO Upward Bound pre-college program for high school students, a federal program administered by Case Western Reserve, was in need of tutors and Black thought he would give it a try. “There are so few opportunities for college students to be mentors because we’re all still kids ourselves,” Black says. “But sometimes, it’s just helpful to be able to sit with someone who can say, ‘I’ve been through this before.” Read more about Rufus Black.
Tell us about your high school experience.
I grew up in Queens and went to a public high school in New York City—the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School. It was a school where every couple of months, you had a different “expedition” and then you would do a big presentation of your learning at the end of the expedition. It’s an interesting concept and very interdisciplinary.
What brought you to Case Western Reserve?
We have family in Cleveland and used to visit once or twice a year when I was younger. I have an uncle who still lives here and I’d heard about the school because my grandpa came here for his master’s degree. He was one of the first Black students to earn a master’s in nuclear physics at Case Western Reserve. I really like it here and I’ve become a big fan of Cleveland.
What keeps you engaged as an Upward Bound tutor?
In a lot of instances, I’ve taken the same classes as the students. I’m only a few years older than them, but we can talk about what it’s like to go to college and what’s involved in the application process. I don’t see it as me giving pep talks or an intense mentorship. It’s really about being with someone who’s been through the same process. There have even been times when I haven’t taken a class that I’m tutoring a student in, but sometimes, there’s value in just sitting with someone and helping them work through a particular problem and talk through it.
Also, when I was in high school, I had a lot of friends who had to go to a job after school or help raise a younger sibling. They didn’t always have a place where they could go and do homework or ask for their parent’s help and support. So I feel like one of the things that TRIO brings for the students is that they can get some support away from home. It opens a space for them to get into an academic mindset and finish the work they need to do in a place that’s away from some of the distractions that might be at home.
Have you thought about what’s next for you after you graduate?
I was lucky enough to get an internship for next summer at Huntington Bank in internal audit. I hope to have a good experience there and maybe get a return offer. I hope to finish up all my classes next semester and then take a co-op semester at Huntington so I can graduate in the spring.
Are there times when you’ve felt like you’ve made a difference for a student?
I had one student who is kind of struggling in math. During a session, we worked on a concept that she had to test on the next day. When she came back, she was excited because she thought she had done well on the test. So that was a moment where I thought that maybe I was able to help out a little bit with that.