Curious Cardinals Partners with Uncommon Schools

Curious Cardinals partners with Uncommon charter schools, offering near-peer mentorship to graduating seniors as they explore their Purpose Projects and future careers. Through this partnership, we strive to open possibilities for Uncommon students to envision their potential and build meaningful connections with mentors who can guide them on their journeys. Seeing mentors learn from their mentees further underlines the transformative power of equitable mentorship, a cornerstone of Curious Cardinals.

About Uncommon

This fall marked our second year in partnership with Uncommon Schools Newark (North Star Academy) as part of our Financial Aid Program. Uncommon Schools is a network of highly regarded, innovative charter schools serving students in five cities across the Northeast.

North Star Academy is the #1 highest-performing charter school in New Jersey and has served Newark students for over 20 years. Nearly all Uncommon students are Black or Hispanic and come from low-income households; 11% receive special education services. Since 1997 (Uncommon's inception) 96% of all Uncommon Schools students have been accepted into 2 or 4-year higher education institutions. 🎉

At Curious Cardinals, concepts like "representation matters" and "accessible personalized education" aren't buzzwords, but deeply held values that are core to who we are as an education platform. We are so proud to work with Uncommon Schools and Program Director Mike Taubman to make this career exploration mentorship experience possible for their students.

How It Works


As part of the Curious Cardinals Financial Aid Program, we collaborate with Uncommon Schools to expose students to various career paths. The goal is to inspire students to think about their future and what they're capable of pursuing. We want our inspiring near-peer mentors to show students what's possible for them, get them dreaming, and demystify the path ahead.

Small groups of Uncommon students meet with a Curious Cardinals mentor virtually once per month for a total of 6 sessions. These meetings are integrated into their school day. "Curious Cardinals becomes an infused experience within the school day, ideally in a class where this is part of the curriculum... That is crucial, I think, because students are busy," shares Program Director Mike Taubman. "Providing time during the school day in a structured fashion, in a planned fashion, allows students to maximize the experience. They can prepare for the call, they can reflect on the call, and the call can become part of an ongoing curriculum that they're part of," he adds. "The logistics have been seamless."

I take immense pride in this partnership as it epitomizes the transformative potential of Curious Cardinals, enabling us to extend that power to an even more diverse student population. The adage 'you are what you can see' rings true here. Our mentors not only demystify diverse career and professional paths but do so in a relatable, human way.

- Audrey Wisch, CEO & Co-founder of Curious Cardinals


Students are matched with Curious Cardinals mentors based on specific interests. Our expansive roster of diverse Curious Cardinals mentors means we can match students with even the most niche interests to a mentor who shares those same interests, showing them how they can tactilely intersect a variety of seemingly disconnected passions.

I think I was surprised by the degree of specificity that Curious Cardinals can offer in terms of options for students. I gave a kind of list of some very discrete careers and a lot of discrete careers, and you all are able to find people passionate about those, knowledgeable about those studying to become those in all sorts of areas that I wouldn't necessarily have expected, with really interesting overlaps too.

- Mike Taubman, Program Director for The Summit, Uncommon Schools Newark


Screenshot 2024-02-28 2.24.54 PMScreenshot 2024-02-28 2.25.02 PMMentor Sarah M. shares her journey to sports journalism with her Uncommon mentees.

For the first session, Curious Cardinals mentors share their passion journeys -- that is, how they got to where they are, and what that path looked like practically. They also hold a Q&A to allow students a chance to ask their burning questions. How did you get an internship at Google? How did you build a portfolio? How do you get started as a journalist? Then, mentors dive deep into the career path itself. Through carefully crafted (and fun!) reflection activities, students hone in on what their own passion journey could look like.

Next, mentors turn it over to the students. With the help of their mentor, they'll engage in activities to explore and prepare for their career(s) of interest, including setting SMART goals.

When Leyla G. mentored her students in pursuing pre-med and healthcare consulting paths, she explained the ways she found opportunities in the field (LinkedIn, cold emailing, volunteering at hospitals). Then she demonstrated them (e.g. how to write a cold email), and assigned her mentees the homework of "finding and reaching out to 5 people they admire within the field to ask them for a coffee chat" so they could practice the skill of cold outreach on their own.

image-png-Feb-28-2024-07-18-13-8352-PMMentor Hayden J. gave his mentees practical guidance on how to find work as a creative. The close nature of the mentor/mentee relationship also allowed Hayden to advise his mentees on things like directing their school's play.

Why This Partnership Matters

"I was looking for a way to help high school seniors connect with various people outside of the high school they go to to explore their future, their sense of purpose, the careers they want to undertake. And I had already started to find adult professionals who were interested in working with students in that way, getting on LinkedIn calls, et cetera. But the missing link to me in a lot of ways, and I thought a key component of all this was near-peer mentorship," Program Director Mike Taubman recollects.

"Students need to see the lawyer, the doctor, the astronaut, whoever it is. But they also need to see the person studying to become a lawyer, doctor, or astronaut."

- Mike Taubman, Program Director for The Summit, Uncommon Schools Newark


Finding Curious Cardinals was "a match made in heaven", he shares. "Here's an educator with some young people who wants to find near-peer mentorship opportunities. And here's an organization that spent a long time finding, training, and connecting undergrads, graduate students, early career people, with [...] younger students. Curious Cardinals has a really seamless, efficient, well-crafted framework to provide that opportunity for young people around the country."

Teachers aren't mentors

As Mike explains, teachers can't mentor every student in their classes. "We're bounded by time as classroom teachers and we're bound by expertise. We know what we studied in college. We know teaching. Here is Curious Cardinals offering mentors that can give a deep dive for students into really specific areas of interest. Those deep dives are facilitated by or supported by the personal connection, like the idea that 'this is a person I'm really getting to know who can be a mentor for me and they happen to know about all these things I'm interested in learning about.'"

Mentor Roxy W. shows her mentees around her workplace (Google!!) for a next-level career exploration experience! (Uncommon cohort 2022)

The Impact

For many students, the Curious Cardinals experience is their first real exposure to fields they have only speculated about or dreamed of. This tractical exploration is inspiring and clarifying, but can also be tremendously validating -- all while building real-world skills and increasing students' confidence.

I thought it was very refreshing to see a group of students with such different identities and different passions they wanted to pursue, and I felt like building the relationship and helping them direct their pursuits and cultivate their passion is really fulfilling. Their ideas also help me grow!

- Mentor Megan Z., USC '24


Representation = possibility

"When Curious Cardinals mentors have shared different identity markers with our students, have looked like our students who have come from backgrounds economically that are similar to our students, or share cultural overlaps with our students... Those have been really powerful connections," Mike says.

I think there's a lot of young women I work with this year who want to get into the healthcare field. And when they work with a Curious Cardinals mentor like Keza L., here's a young woman of color who's also entering the healthcare field and pretty deep into her process at this point. And I think, as the saying goes, you can't be what you can't see. And Curious Cardinals mentors give our students a chance when it's the right match to see what they want to be in the mentor they're talking to.

- Mike Taubman, Program Director for The Summit, Uncommon Schools Newark


Mike shares that it's not just career exploration that Curious Cardinals brings to the table -- it's passion and connection. "[My student] has been able to connect with [his mentor] and learn about those things in a way where it feels like he's learning from somebody a little further along the path who can kind of guide him. And my student's own interest in mental health was peaked in these conversations with his Curious Cardinals mentor when he realized there could be a connection between the visual arts and mental health, both in terms of addressing mental health issues and one's own sort of personal mental health. And so that's a great example of the ways in which connection can be fostered at a deeper level than the typical classroom environment allows."

The overall impact [of the partnership] has been student's experience of mentorship, not just teaching. So they get a lot of teaching at the school [...] But there's a difference between teaching and mentorship.

- Mike Taubman, Program Director of The Summit, Uncommon Schools Newark


Meet The Mentors

Each year, a crop of too-cool Curious Cardinals mentors (who are subject matter experts in their fields of study) devote their time to guiding Uncommon mentees. Here's our mentor cohort + areas of mentorship for Uncommon 2023! (Click any mentor's card or name to learn more about them.)

Tara M.Ilyana B. (1)Leyla G. (1)Claire S.

Tara M. art, design; Ilyana B. pre-law; Leyla G. pre-med, healthcare consulting; Claire S. consulting, non-profit, government, education;

Sarah M. (1)Megan Z.Abrar T. (1)Anya S.

Sarah M. marketing, journalism, sports business/marketing/management; Megan Z. entrepreneurship, management consulting/strategy, social media marketing/management; Abrar T. politics, non-profit, social impact work; Anya S. finance, entrepreneurship, consulting, corporate strategy, marketing, accounting, business;

Hayden J.HeeJoo R.Chibuzo E. (1)Keza L.

Hayden J. music production, songwriting, acting, teaching, business admin, photography/videography, editing; HeeJoo R. mental health counseling; Chibuzo E. finance; Keza L. pre-med;

Cassidy C.

Casi C. community service, social work, psychology, art/creativity, education.

The Future Is Bright

It's not just about showing students different career options, but working together to help them get there. I really hope we can expand this program to more Uncommon schools, and eventually to charter schools across the country. Providing equal opportunities and access for all students is a core value for us at Curious Cardinals. This program allows us to meet low-income students where they are to support their goals.

-Audrey Wisch, CEO & Co-founder, Curious Cardinals


It's been a delight to see the power of near-peer mentorship in action as North Star's high school students connect with and are inspired by their Curious Cardinals mentor. We are endlessly thankful to Mike Taubman from Uncommon, and to our very own Caroline Lau, for bringing this partnership to life. We look forward to many more successful years of partnership with Uncommon Schools!

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