Featuring guest blogger Sara Ervin, Class of 2022
Meet Sara Ervin.
In her own words, Sara is an “untraditional student” who had a circuitous route to where she is today. She came to the University of Georgia after obtaining her bachelor’s degree in rural studies from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and a master’s degree in mass communication from Valdosta State University.
She admits her academic focus could, at times, wander. She initially entered college to become a veterinarian. But then a strong desire to help people made her change course. While she wasn’t clear about precisely what she wanted to do, there was one nagging thought in the back of her mind – a career in the FBI. “I’m very protective,” she says. “Taking down the bad guys seemed like a good choice.” Still, that notion seemed more like a dream than a reality. She didn’t even know the first step to take, so she tucked the idea away.
She came to work at UGA as a student/faculty coordinator, responsible for managing student services and faculty affairs for the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics within the College of Public Health. But she still wrestled with “exactly what I wanted to do with my life.”
In 2018, she gained acceptance to begin work on a PhD in UGA’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication program. Still employed full time at UGA, and now a part-time PhD student, her plate was full. That’s where the UGA Mentor Program came into play.
Let’s let Sara pick up her story from here in her own words:
In August 2019, a few weeks into the semester, I received an email about the UGA Mentor Program. It doesn’t matter what level you are in your educational journey; you should always seek and accept help whenever you can. The overview was just a 30-minute presentation, so I thought, ‘what was there to lose?’
I understand the benefits a mentor can have, but I never had one before. Knowing what I know now, I wish I could have had this opportunity when I was a freshman in college. Hindsight is 20/20, and that is why I am so passionate about sharing my story.
A unique feature of the UGA Mentor Program is the ability to search and choose from a vast number of mentors. All mentors are UGA alumni who are volunteering their time and expertise. There is an online platform making it easy to find one that fits your needs.
My interest and research areas include crisis communication, disaster preparedness, and terrorism/counter-terrorism. I considered this niche as unique and not a popular combination, so I was not getting my hopes up about finding someone that fit all these criteria.
But after an hour of reading profiles under the keywords like crisis communication, terrorism, and disaster, I found an alumnus by the name of Mark Ball, who graduated UGA with a bachelor’s in international affairs (AB ’08). Mark is currently a lieutenant in the United States Navy. He has been in the Navy for over seven years; his experience matched each of my ‘unique’ interests. I clicked his name, sent him an email about myself asking for him to be my mentor. Within a couple days there was a reply. A few emails later, our first meeting was set.
Since he is stationed halfway around the world, we met via FaceTime and it went great.
The UGA Mentor Program provides many resources to help you prepare and use to ensure that one-on-one sessions with a mentor go smoothly and successfully. After an hour and a half, we got to know each other personally and professionally, established goals, and set expectations. Our relationship grew organically. We hit it off, and the time truly flew by.
The mentoring was very structured. After each of our meetings, there were deliverables I was responsible for preparing before our next meeting. Mostly my idea, but he agreed they would help. For instance, one task was to put into writing 1) Why I want to get a PhD, 2) Identify areas I want to research and why, and 3) Why I want to be an FBI Agent.
We would discuss my goals and these topics in depth. Mark asked a few questions. I remember the moment like it was yesterday. He listened and about halfway through, in a very calm tone as if he were telling me the weather, he asks, ‘Have you ever considered the Navy Reserves, as an intelligence officer? This could also be a beneficial segue into the FBI.’
I wish I could say that the Hallelujah Chorus rose in the background and fireworks shot off, but that was not the case. I had not considered joining the military in over a decade. I pondered a military career in high school when we had a career day, but quickly swatted away the idea.
But I am a nerd. I love to learn things. Knowledge is power, and the more you know, the more you know! So, I did my due diligence. I spent weeks researching his suggestion, looking at the ins and outs of the Navy, the intelligence world, and the military in general. I asked friends and family for their input. I thought and prayed about it.
Then one sunny day in October, I contacted a Navy recruiter. After we met, I thought and prayed about it a bit longer, before deciding this is exactly what I needed and should do. I finally know what I want to do for the rest of my life!
Mark has been by my side every step of the way. He has not only guided me along the steps of entering the military, which is not an easy feat, but he has also helped guide me in my studies. Many of our conversations have been about current events and what research topics would be beneficial. If I can learn and research pertinent information about my future career field, why not?
Our ongoing mentor/mentee relationship has been truly life changing. I can honestly say that I had no idea that I would benefit as much as I have from the relationship or the program. I can only imagine what I would have gotten from this program had I had the same opportunity my freshmen year in college.
I am forever grateful to Mark and the UGA Mentor Program. I cannot recommend this program enough. It is beneficial for any age, educational level, or stage of life. One day, I hope I can give back to a student just as much as Mark and the program have given to me.
Inspired by this life changing story? Want to play a role in helping a student achieve their dreams?