This story was written by Rosalyn Dunn.
When Molly Dunn (BS ’23) signed up for UGA’s Mentor Program, she figured it would be a good way to find out more about careers in her major and a get a head start on making professional contacts.
Looking through the lists of potential mentors, she felt drawn to Tonya Freeman (AB ’86). And it became clear from the first phone call that the choice was a good one.
“I have mentored for over 30 years—all age groups from elementary school to college to peers and friends and family,” Tonya said. She started as a mentor at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, partnering with Tilson Elementary School—which she attended—and went on to develop formal and informal programs for CDC employees. It only seemed natural to get involved with the UGA Mentor Program, where she has mentored multiple young women at UGA who are studying Statistics.
“These young ladies are breaking the glass ceiling in the field and have made their impact known,” she said. “It is the best feeling of giving back.”
For many UGA Mentorship pairs, the program lasts about 4 months. Tonya, however, told Molly that if she wanted to continue working together, they could.
And they did, meeting faithfully over Zoom calls once a month, even on vacation. They scheduled in-person meetings when possible, including an afternoon in Athens when Tonya brought her daughter, Tai, for a tour of UGA. Tonya also helped Molly make connections with the CDC’s surveillance unit for a summer internship.
“There is so much that’s uncertain, so many directions to go and a little fear about what’s coming after school,” Molly said. “Seeing someone as vibrant and confident as Tonya in a competitive field—especially as a woman in STEM—who went through the same program I did and is now leading a happy and successful life was inspiring and encouraging.”
That success is exactly what both the UGA Mentor Program and Tonya seek to achieve.
“In mentoring, I aim to celebrate, connect, educate, and support my mentees,” Tonya said. “It is so rewarding to see others excel.”
Molly’s senior year at UGA paralleled Tonya’s daughter Tai’s senior year of high school and brought about an ironic twist to the mentoring relationship.
“I finally got the chance to do something in return,” said Molly’s mother, Rosalyn Dunn (ABJ ’92), first by giving Tai some writing advice on her application essays, and later, after the fireworks email erupted in Tai’s inbox and announced her acceptance, by helping Tonya navigate tuition payments and sources for campus information.
“I also checked in to see how she was holding up, because it wasn’t that long ago that I knew the feeling of missing a daughter at home and worrying about how she was doing at school,” Rosalyn said.
The mentoring relationship also expanded to the younger generation, with Molly advising Tai on housing choices, dorm essentials and campus navigation tips.
In June, “three alumnae and a Dawg” met at The Battery in Atlanta to share a meal and celebrate Tai’s UGA acceptance and Molly’s graduation. A couple of months later, Tonya and Rosalyn met for a Braves game at Truist Park, where they texted their girls and reveled in an unexpected benefit to the UGA Mentor Program.
“It’s been an amazing relationship turned friendship,” Tonya said. “We are looking forward to more great times.”