[Image above (L-R) – Christina Carrere (BS ’11) and Kelly Strachan (AB ’21) on a balcony overlooking the West Wing of the White House, Spring 2021.]
In a perfect world, participation in the University of Georgia Mentor Program begins as a student in Athens and continues for a lifetime—once a Dawg, always a Dawg—once a UGA Mentee, forever a UGA Mentor. That’s what’s shaping up for Kelly Strachan (AB ’21).
Finding her footing as a first-gen student
The first in her family to attend college, Kelly Strachan realized how overwhelming navigating life at UGA could be when she moved into Creswell Hall her freshman year. Finding mentorship within the UGA alumni base helped her grow confidence and find direction. Kelly took the initiative to find three different mentors during her time at UGA. She first connected with Brian Dill (AB ’94, MBA ’19). Kelly credits Brian, VP of External Affairs for Tanner Health Systems, with helping her find her passion for health administration and policy. Later, Marylen Rimando (PHD ’19), who represents strong women in the field as a health scientist with bioinformatics firm IHRC, Inc., became Kelly’s mentor. Kelly has stayed in touch with both her earlier mentors, but it was her mentorship with Senior Medicare Program Examiner with the White House Office of Management and Budget, Health Division, Christina Carrere (BS ’11), that has proven to be truly life-changing.
From SPIA to the White House
Kelly was a student in UGA’s School of Public and International Affairs when she first reached out to Christina through the UGA Mentor Program. Christina says a part of her heart will always be in Athens, but since her work largely keeps her confined to Washington, DC, she looked for more consistent and meaningful ways to stay engaged with UGA and its students. The UGA Mentor Program fit the bill. What started as a general informational interview with Kelly, quickly grew into deeper discussions about graduate school, career paths, personal challenges each have faced, diversity in the workplace, resulting in a connection that has long outlasted the formal mentor-mentee cycle in the UGA mentor program (typically 16 weeks).
“Kelly and I initiated our mentor-mentee relationship during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was important given my work in health policy and her interest in the field. The timeliness of the pandemic gave us opportunities to discuss the different roles individuals play in responding to something of this magnitude as well as the good, bad and ugly of how policy is formed and shaped using real-world examples in real time,” said Christina.
Several months into their connection, Christina wrote a letter of recommendation for Kelly to Christina’s graduate school alma mater (John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where Kelly is now a graduate student and a graduate teaching assistant). Later, Kelly spotted a posting on Christina’s LinkedIn page about an internship on Christina’s team at the White House. Kelly applied and got the position all on her own. It just so happened that Christina was on a leave of absence throughout the application and interview process. Back in time for Kelly’s first day, Christina counts taking Kelly on her first tour of the White House complex and grabbing a picture with her outside the West Wing (see photo above) as a cherished memory.
Christina says, “Seeing a relationship that started as a virtual connection grow into all of this is a testament to the power of the UGA Mentor Program and its ability to connect students and alumni across the world in meaningful ways.”
Paying it forward
Even while still a student at UGA, Kelly wanted to make certain that every student experienced how giving and supportive the UGA community can be. “One of my proudest roles was being an ambassador for the Mentor Program,” Kelly says. Ambassadors of the UGA Mentor Program work with other students and UGA Career Center staff to foster a culture of mentorship at UGA by developing programming, partnerships and marketing strategies that bring heightened awareness to the UGA Mentor Program.
Recently, Kelly heard from previous mentor Marylen about her current mentee, a UGA student who wants to follow a path similar to Kelly’s. Kelly was all too happy to connect with her and plans to stay in touch. Kelly described it as a full-circle moment. “I truly hope every student at UGA, who may be feeling a little lost or overwhelmed like I was, finds the support they deserve.”
January is National Mentor Month, and January 17 is International Day of Mentoring. To learn how you can become involved with the UGA Mentor Program, visit mentor.uga.edu.