It was hardly coincidental for Roosevelt University’s Professional Mentoring Program to match Roosevelt senior Serhiy Kiyasov with Roosevelt Board of Trustees member Charles “Charlie” Gardner.
Both are athletes. Both are gregarious. What’s more, Kiyasov, an international student, wanted a better sense of Chicago — and who better to guide the way than Gardner, with his inside track on both the city and its people?
“It seemed like a very good fit,” said Katrina Coakley, the Roosevelt associate provost for student success, whose team matched mentee and mentor after they took personality surveys and submitted to separate interviews.
Coakley’s team would not have predicted, however, that Kiyasov, an honors student, and Gardner, whose name as a donor graces the Roosevelt Lakers basketball court, would bond over the game of tennis, which they play together often.
“It’s been an amazing coincidence,” said Gardner, a retired Chicago real estate investment executive who once played professional basketball for the Denver Rockets in the American Basketball Association, and is now a tennis regular at Chicago’s Midtown Athletic Club.
“It’s been an interesting experience,” said Kiyasov, who came to the United States from Ukraine, playing for the Roosevelt men’s tennis team since 2014.
“Charlie never tries to be superior,” Kiyasov said of his mentor, the former president and CEO of Chicago Dock and Canal Trust, where he managed and sold major landholdings and served on a variety of boards and foundations in Chicago.
“He wants to share his experiences and at the same time learn something from me,” Kiyasov said. “He’s a mentor to me, and at the same time he’s a good friend.”
Since their pairing in fall 2016, Gardner and Kiyasov have played tennis at Midtown Athletic Club most Sundays, usually in doubles matches with Gardner’s friends, including a Russian executive and a prominent Chicago attorney.
“I certainly don’t put any great demands on these kids. It’s all about helping them in the way that they want to get ahead.”
Charles “Charlie” GardnerRoosevelt Board of Trustees member
“I don’t have my family here, and I can’t say Charlie is exactly a substitute,” said Kiyasov, who saves his questions about Chicago and how to make it in the city for a lunch that usually follows the game with Gardner and his tennis friends. “But I can tell you I always feel accepted in their company,” he said. “I have a real good time on Sundays.”
One of the first members of the Roosevelt Board of Trustees to sign on to Roosevelt’s Mentoring Program, Gardner is one of the board’s role models for what a mentor can be.
“To me, the program is about the satisfaction you can take from meeting young people and hopefully helping them to progress,” said Gardner, who so far has had three mentees, including Kiyasov.
“I certainly don’t put any great demands on these kids,” Gardner said. “It’s all about helping them in the way that they want to get ahead.”
For Kiyasov, having a mentor has meant gleaning advice on how he should present himself at his very best in a city that he wants to continue to call home.
“It’s important to tell your own narrative,” Gardner advised the paralegal studies graduate. “You always have to say what you think about yourself — and you need to know how to turn negatives about yourself into positives.”
That advice eventually helped Kiyasov land an acceptance to DePaul University’s College of Law, which he will attend in the fall.
“There’s very little hardship and a lot of reward to attaching yourself to one student and then seeing how he or she progresses at the university and beyond in a career,” said Gardner, who hopes others will join him in becoming a mentor.
Kiyasov’s relationship with Gardner won’t end anytime soon, particularly as the recent graduate starts to open new doors.
“It’s not a finish. It’s just the beginning,” Kiyasov said. “I see Charlie as someone who can help lead me in the future — and he plays a good game of tennis too.”
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