TU professor honored for mentoring

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Art Rasher, an associate professor of business management at The University of Tulsa, is the recipient of the 2011 David and Molly Boren Mentoring Award.

Art Rasher

Rasher is the current National Big Brother of the Year for his work with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and his dedication to his little brother, Victor. The two were paired by the mentoring organization nine years ago.

"He’s a really brilliant kid. Nobody gave him credit for that, but I always saw it in him," Rasher said. "Although many of his peers have taken to gangs, dropped out of school and fathered children out of wedlock, Victor has focused on working hard in school and being a loving son to his mother. When we began our relationship, he was painfully shy. Today he is outgoing and confident."

Victor is now a sophomore at Booker T. Washington High School, a magnet school in Tulsa consistently listed among the nation’s best high schools. To commemorate the national honor, Rasher was recognized at the White House by President Barack Obama last summer.

Rasher will receive the Boren award during a ceremony at the State Capitol on Jan. 25, which is National Thank Your Mentor Day. The OFE will present him with a plaque and donate $500 in his honor to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tulsa.

Big Brothers Big Sisters’ mission is to help children reach their potential through one-to-one relationships with mentors that have a measurable impact on youth. The agency makes meaningful, monitored matches between adult volunteers (bigs) and children (littles) ages 6 to 18.

Rasher and his Little Brother are featured in a public service announcement being distributed to TV stations statewide. (To watch the PSA, please click here.)

Rasher began volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tulsa as a board member, helping with recruiting and fundraising. He soon realized the best way to support the agency’s mission was to become a Big Brother himself.

"Mentoring matters, and I’ve seen its transformative power in Victor’s life," Rasher said. "It takes no special qualifications to be mentor – just being there and caring."

Anne Lisko, director of program evaluation with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma, said Rasher has changed the course of Victor’s life by being a positive male role model and challenging him to reach his potential. "His life could have gone a different direction, but Art gave him the confidence he needed to fulfill his potential and be successful in high school," Lisko said.

In elementary school, Victor was diagnosed with a learning disability, dyslexia, and struggled to keep up in class. Rasher encouraged Victor to not be ashamed of his disability, but to "prove it wrong" by trying harder and getting extra help in school. Rasher also gave Victor challenging books to read and introduced him to new vocabulary words.

This past year, Rasher began taking Victor to visit college campuses around the country, including such universities as Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Rasher’s alma mater, Michigan State.

Sharla Hall Owens, chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma, said Rasher not only talks about the importance of higher education, but he’s gone the extra step by taking Victor on college tours, which makes attending college less intimidating and more achievable.

Before meeting Rasher, Victor said he didn’t think he would ever attend college. "Now I will be the first generation in my family to graduate from college," he said. "Art has inspired me to try my best in school and to show people that I can be somebody in this world. He has helped me to follow my dream to be an engineer."

The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, a nonprofit organization founded in 1985 by then-U.S. Sen. David Boren, recognizes and encourages academic excellence in Oklahoma’s public schools. In 2005, the foundation launched the Boren Mentoring Initiative to promote the growth and development of school-based mentoring statewide. The initiative grew out of Boren’s own commitment to mentoring and the proven impact that mentoring can have on a student’s success in and out of the classroom.

Mona Chamberlin