Elizabeth Carter was all set to intern at a Fortune 500 company. Then the pandemic hit, and her internship disappeared. The University of Georgia master’s candidate reached out to her two mentors, and they helped her find a different position that turned out to be an advantageous opportunity.
Carter and her mentors are part of the UGA Mentor Program, the university’s first comprehensive mentorship initiative, which allows students to form meaningful mentoring relationships with experienced UGA alumni. Because the mentor program is largely conducted via text, phone and email, connections continued uninterrupted despite the pandemic.
Carter’s mentors are Jessica Faber, senior innovation advisor for USAID, and Hiram Larew, who is retired after a long career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture—both in the Washington, D.C., area where Carter hopes to one day work. Together, they helped her strategize.
A silver lining
“I posted on LinkedIn, making sure to employ the advice they gave me, and as a result was connected to the UPS Global Public Affairs office in D.C. where I served as the international team legislative assistant. This position was a dream come true for a master of international policy and international affairs student, and certainly a silver lining in otherwise difficult times.”
Since the UGA Mentor Program’s 2019 launch, over 2,200 students and nearly 2,500 mentors have registered and more than 1,800 mentoring relationships have been created. Of the students participating in the first year of the program, 97 percent say they’ve gained a stronger appreciation for mentoring as a personal and professional development tool—and 98 percent of both mentors and mentees would recommend the program to others.
For Joy Xiao, a first-generation college student far from her home in China, bonding with her mentor, Kristi Farner, provided comfort. Farner is Extension program and staff development specialist with UGA’s Office of Learning and Organizational Development.
Sense of belonging
“During spring break, I was on UGA’s Great Commitments Student Tour of Georgia with UGA’s Public Service and Outreach,” said Xiao. “When COVID-19 hit, Kristi emailed me to check in to see if I was doing OK. Connecting with her really raised my sense of belonging to the big UGA family.”
Farner enjoyed the mutually beneficial aspects of their relationship. “A unique challenge is understanding the context and pressures she has, since I don’t fully understand the culture she comes from,” said Farner. “I found it was a great learning opportunity for me that pushed me to use more active listening and coaching instead of suggesting answers.”
Both of my mentors had vast experiences, yet they were still chasing their dreams and building out new goals. I was surprised when they asked me for my perspective.” — Kanler Cumbass
Like Carter, Kanler Cumbass, a master’s candidate pursuing a degree in higher education, has benefited from multiple mentors—one in the 2019 fall semester and one in spring 2020.
“Both of my mentors had vast experiences, yet they were still chasing their dreams and building out new goals. I was surprised when they asked me for my perspective,” Cumbass admitted. “Mentorship is about building a working partnership and, though I have less experience, they valued my expertise and thoughts. I learned so much from these conversations. From my mentors, I learned that we are always refining our goals and should.”
One of his mentors, Cara Simmons, who works as the director of the Student Success and Advising Center in UGA’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences, is pleased that their relationship has continued beyond the standard 16-week commitment to participate in the Mentor Program. “Our conversations have allowed me to think about different experiences I want to have in my own professional journey,” said Simmons. [Note: The image at the top of this article features mentor Cara Simmons with mentee Kanler Cumbass.]
Sydney Cederboom, a fourth-year political science and international affairs double major with pre-law intent, chose Vickie Bowman, director of Piedmont Judicial Circuit Specialty Courts in north central Georgia, as her latest mentor. For Cederboom, the value of mentorship comes in finding a person with whom you can personally relate.
“Being a minority and having the ability to be mentored by Black women who have achieved great things at UGA and beyond has helped to shape my approach to college life and opened my eyes to my own potential,” said Cederboom.
The senior adds that the biggest surprise was how personal the relationships with her mentors became. “I was expecting the mentoring process to be strictly professional and focused on networking. However, from the beginning my mentors made it known that they were available to talk with me about anything that I needed,” Cederboom explained. Bowman responded, “Sydney reminded me of the college student I was. Sometimes ‘calm down and breathe’ and ‘you’re going to be fine’ are all you need on hard days.”
If you are a UGA student or alumni interested in joining the UGA Mentor Program, please visit mentor.uga.edu to learn more.