In honor of International Mentoring Day, a highlight of National Mentoring Month, the UGA Mentor Program is featuring a couple of our international mentors and mentees.
Finding common ground a world away
After double majoring in criminal justice and psychology at UGA, Matt Hodgson (AB ’95) went on to earn a master’s degree in forensic science from George Washington University. He now lives in Brisbane, Australia, and works for the Queensland Police Service. He has always wanted to give back to UGA in some way, and the opportunity to mentor students was a perfect opportunity.
Hodgson says he was lucky to have a couple of great mentors in college, even though UGA didn’t have a campus-wide mentorship program at the time.
“You just had to find people who would take you under their wing,” he recalled. “I was lucky to strike up some friendships with faculty members. They gave me good advice—and not just about academics—also about career paths and just life itself. I’m hoping I can do the same for someone else.”
Hodgson has mentored two UGA students. One of those students, Gabrielle Fontaine (’22), explained that she chose to contact Hodgson through the UGA Mentor Program website because of her interest in forensic psychology and the fact that he was based internationally.
“The time difference and different seasons made for great conversation and broadened my knowledge of what life is like in Australia,” Gabrielle said. “Having him as a mentor allowed me to think about expanding my search to consider a career overseas.”
For Hodgson, mentoring is a way to stay involved with the Bulldog family.
“Mentoring brings together the perfect mix for me,” Hodgson said. “I am able, with experience and hindsight, to chat and help out students with career, study or other advice—plus I get to hear and share insights about UGA life and events.”
Gaining confidence one step at a time
As a UGA graduate student from Nigeria, Kehinde (Kenny) Lawal (’22) struggled to acclimate to the UGA system, which differed from her home country. She also felt inferior to others on campus. Joining the UGA Mentor Program inspired her.
“It has been rewarding for me to watch her confidence grow to match her abilities and qualifications,” said Lawal’s mentor, Alex Gomez (BSBCHE ’13). He goes on to sing her praises. “She is goal-oriented, proactive and extremely qualified to excel in whatever she does.”
In addition to looking to build her confidence, Lawal joined the UGA Mentor Program because she wanted to get a clear understanding of a career in the energy industry in the United States. “I was hoping I could get direction from someone with experience in that field,” she explained. “Alex has been so great in showing me where I was and where I needed to be by setting short- and long-term goals. He has also shown me opportunities available to me at UGA that I needed to take advantage of to build a brand for myself. My focus has shifted from just getting a degree to also leveraging relationships that matter. I am looking forward to being an impactful and friendly mentor, just as Alex Gomez has been to me.”
Creating a network for success
For Zada Smith (’21), who hails from the Bahamas, enrolling at UGA wasn’t her first experience living in Georgia, but she was still surprised by how much had changed since she was a child. She described the culture shock as immense.
“The hardest part about being at UGA was feeling socially disconnected,” said Smith. “It seemed as though everyone knew people from their high schools and had a success network surrounding them. Trying to find the courage to reach out to professors and make friends was tough.”
Smith found a safe haven in the UGA Mentor Program.
“I didn’t have the courage to reach out to someone and ask for mentoring,” she said, “but the UGA Mentor Program had a platform of mentors ready to help. It was a great way to learn about my field from someone established.”
Smith’s mentor Matthew Dials (BLA ’07) said, “Having an international mentee provided a unique perspective on the challenges some students face and how important the UGA network is for providing a support system to help them succeed.”
Connecting Bulldogs with Bulldogs
The UGA Mentor Program platform is well-suited to facilitating international connections. As communication takes place via text, email, phone or video conferencing, bridging distance is no problem.
“I suppose the biggest challenge has been trying to coordinate time zones and finding the right time to call for a chat,” Hodgson explained. “Australia is a day ahead of Georgia, so I’ll be calling in the morning and speaking to a mentee who is a day behind me in the afternoon.”
There are more than 2,600 mentors in the UGA Mentor Program. While the majority are located in the United States, there are mentors in 18 other countries. All program participants agree that preparation and planning are key to a successful mentoring relationship, whether international or not. The Mentor Program provides resources to help guide discussions, set goals, and get the best results from every interaction.