Get Carol Valentino-Barry chatting about the Socratic and case study methods of teaching, and you will soon fall prey to her infectious enthusiasm.
Valentino-Barry is the executive director of Mentoring Mission, a nonprofit based in Chicago that works to bring mentors into high school classrooms across the country.
Most of their mentors are graduates of Harvard Business School. The mentoring program consists of using Harvard Business School’s case study method, so students can learn dynamically, as a group, by reading and analyzing real-life case studies on topics ranging from Patagonia’s sustainability strategy to disaster recovery in Bangladesh.
The exercise can be daunting at first for the students, Valentino-Barry acknowledges. “Every case is interesting once you get into it, but at first, it’s like, ‘Oh my God, how many pages is this? How many charts are there?’ But once you start unpacking it, it’s great. You feel a bit like Sherlock Holmes.”
Born and raised in Chicago, Valentino-Barry earned an undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Illinois, an MBA from DePaul University and an MEd in secondary education from Roosevelt University.
She became interested in the study of the classics and Latin through her sons’ schooling, and eventually started researching Socrates and the Socratic method of dialogue and critical thinking.
“It’s a great mechanism. I think it’s very powerful and I think it’s very simple,” Valentino-Barry says. “The inquiry-based way of discussing a business dilemna, and the flexibility one has in taking either side of a position… it drops the ego and it makes you stay with the intellectual exercise.”
Valentino-Barry co-founded Mentoring Mission in 2012 with Charles M. Duncan, a graduate of Harvard Business School.
From 2013 to 2018, more than 100 students participated in the program at Ridgewood Community High School in Norridge, receiving dual credit from Triton College, according to the nonprofit’s website.
Since 2018, students at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School have participated and some have received dual credit from Malcolm X College, both in Chicago.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the program took place virtually.
In 2022, it returned to classrooms in San Francisco, Chicago, Milwaukee and Jersey City, reaching more than 400 students altogether, the website states.
So how do students take to the program’s in-class mentoring?
“I think they are surprised on a lot of levels,” Barry says. “They ask themselves, ‘Why would this person come in and help me, and teach me about this?’ They are surprised to learn in-depth about business and industries they never knew existed, and they are surprised at how dynamic the experience is. And they are surprised at the ability of themselves and their classmates to go that deep.”
The lack of funding is the main obstacle to doing even more widespread work, says Valentino-Barry, who also teaches yoga. “We have amazing volunteers, but we are looking for a foundation or some sort of other source of money.”
On a recent trip to Italy earlier this year, she tried to expand the reach of Mentoring Mission by connecting with the American Overseas School in Rome. The attempt didn’t get any traction, as did another to connect with schools in Greece.
“It’s not an easy soundbite,” she says. “People don’t really understand what I am talking about until the participate.”
For more information about getting involved in Mentoring Mission as a sponsor, mentor or school, contact Carol Valentino-Barry at email@example.com. For more, click here.