Posts

A STEM mentorship that blossomed into an enduring relationship

Aria Morrill (Class of 2023) is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, focused on food science in general, and research and development in particular. This summer, she is expanding her knowledge through an internship with Conagra Brands. Aria said, “I am here because of Anna—straight up!”

Anna Wilson (BSA ’05, MS ’07) serves as the Director of Research and Development (Protein) for Rich Products Corporation and Aria’s mentor through the UGA Mentor Program. “Real-world challenges weren’t necessarily covered when I was in school,” Anna explained. “I loved my time at UGA and thought it would be awesome to talk to students about the things I wished I had learned. Women, especially, may need mentorship in this industry.”

Aria firmly believes that she has her internship, thanks to Anna. “The way she prepared me gave me everything I needed to interview well. She taught me vocabulary and shared industry knowledge that puts me ahead of my peers. Her guidance shaped the way I interact with others and is helping me get the most out of this internship.”

Anna said that seeing Aria flourishing is fulfilling for her, too. “Becoming a mentor helped me think a little differently. I reflect back on my studies, but also get a valuable perspective on what students are coming out of school with today. It informs my hiring process and helps me recognize teaching moments in day-to-day work with my team,” she said.

Aria has gotten so much out of this mentorship—from better understanding of the technical side of food science and the chemical and microbiological aspects important in product development, to how to approach negotiating a salary. “I have learned to appreciate my worth, assert myself when needed and communicate professionally,” she said. Anna appreciates the chance to help with having those conversations that she had to navigate on her own as a young woman.

Both Anna and Aria have enjoyed being paired with others through the Mentor Program, but their special bond has and will endure. Aria sums it up, “This experience has shown me the power of mentorship. I was inspired to become a UGA Mentor Program Ambassador and actively encourage other students to participate in the program.”

Now is the perfect time to sign up to become a mentor. There is a student coming in the fall who can benefit from your experience.

On the fence?

Get the info you need to make an informed decision and learn about support the program offers mentors at UGA Mentor Program 101, a free webinar on Aug. 3 from 3:30-4:30 p.m. You will hear from successful mentor/mentee pairings, learn best practices for forming a strong connection and discover tips to become an effective mentor.

Now’s the perfect time to become a UGA mentor

Why now?

Students will be back soon and looking to connect with experienced Bulldogs like you. In the video above, you’ll hear why your fellow alumni find mentoring so rewarding and don’t want you to miss out.

Connect anywhere and on your schedule. Getting started is easy.

  • Create a profile at mentor.uga.edu.
  • Accept a student request for mentorship.

What’s the commitment?

  • 1-2 hours per month for four months (16 weeks)
  • Share knowledge, experiences and feedback.

Quick Chats require even less of a time commitment.

If a 16-week mentorship doesn’t suit your schedule, consider making yourself available for 15-to-30-minute Quick Chats with students instead.

Help a student realize their potential.

“I was lost before I met my UGA mentor. I really feel more confident about my abilities because of them.” – UGA Student

It may surprise you how much YOU get out of giving back in this way!

 

On the fence? Want to learn more?

To help new and potential mentors, the UGA Mentor Program is hosting a webinar, UGA Mentor Program 101, on Aug. 3 from 3:30-4:30 p.m. You will hear from successful mentor/mentee pairings, learn best practices for forming a strong connection and discover tips to become an effective mentor.

Students want to see themselves reflected in their mentors

The UGA Mentor Program needs you!

There is a UGA student arriving on campus this fall that can benefit from your experience. The UGA Mentor Program is simple to join, and mentoring fits within your schedule. A 16-week mentorship requires just 1 to 2 hours per month. Making yourself available for 15- to 30-minute Quick Chats are another option. It may amaze you how much you get out of giving back as a mentor.

To help new and potential mentors, the UGA Mentor Program is hosting a webinar, UGA Mentor Program 101, on Aug. 3 from 3:30-4:30 p.m. You will hear from successful mentor/mentee pairings, learn best practices for forming a strong connection and discover tips to become an effective mentor.

The UGA Mentor Program has facilitated 3,692 mentoring relationships since it began, and perhaps the best endorsements of the program come from students.

“Jumping into college as a freshman, you have no idea what the future or even next week will look like,” said one student in the program. “You’re making new friends, learning how to get around and deciding how you want to spend the next 30-plus years of your life. I felt stuck struggling to choose a major—until I joined the UGA Mentor Program. Because of my mentorship, I am confident, knowledgeable and on the road to success.”

Another student said, “I gained exactly what I needed from the Mentor Program: someone who had great knowledge, and a great heart, that was willing to invest in me.”

Students have stated how helpful it is to talk to someone who has been in their shoes and how important it is to find support from others who traveled the same path before.

Be there for a student. Become a mentor.

“It is so helpful to talk with someone who’s been in our shoes …”

In honor of Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Heritage Month, the UGA Mentor Program is highlighting the pairing of mentor Avalon Kandrac (BSBE ’19) with mentee Pravalika Irukulla (BSBE ’22). Both have paired with other people through the program, but they admit their connection with each other was special.

Finding a connection

Avalon: I vividly remember being a young engineering student and longing for guidance and camaraderie in such a male-dominated program. Connecting with Pravalika, we immediately shared that unique bond of both being females with a similar ethnic background in the biological engineering realm.

Pravalika: It is so helpful to talk to someone who has been in our shoes and can help us learn from their experience. Having a mentor to guide you through your college journey and beyond is helpful. Professionally, Avalon helped me figure out if I’m making the right decision about the path I am taking.

Sharing experiences

Avalon: I saw myself in Pravalika when she talked about her future and what she hoped to accomplish with her biological engineering degree. I remember all those same feelings while working toward my degree at UGA. Being a student engrossed in obtaining an engineering degree can be so overwhelming in the moment. I was able to share some perspective and help Pravalika look toward the future, while also appreciating her current time as a student.

Pravalika: We ALL come into college with a bunch of questions in our heads. I wish I had joined the Mentor Program my freshman year and had someone to help guide me right from the start. It would have enhanced my UGA experience. After having such positive experiences as a mentee, I became a Mentor Program Ambassador so that I could make an impact and help show students that we should see our mentors as friends—someone that has been in our shoes and will help us.

Choosing a path

Avalon: Since my career began at Walt Disney World as a Construction Project Manager (Avalon recently accepted a new position with Choate Construction in Nashville), I have connected with students from various colleges interested in both the hospitality and construction fields. While I have enjoyed all the students I have met, I feel I have a special connection with the female engineering students I have been able to mentor.

Pravalika: Even though Avalon wasn’t in the career field that I’m interested in, she helped me reach out and connect with people in fields that did interest me. From there, I learned how to network and find even more people that would be helpful for me.

Creating a network

Avalon: Building a network within the female engineering community is so important. I remember all the women in engineering who gave me guidance and support during my time as a student. One thing I always do as a mentor is connect students with resources and with other incredible mentors.

Pravalika: Being included was the most meaningful part of the mentorship experience. I enjoy talking to people, but I also am shy. It can scare me to take that first step. Avalon’s introductions helped me step out of my comfort zone in a good way and strengthen my communication skills. She gave me many resources and helped me make connections, improving my soft skills and growing my confidence.

Getting with the program

Summer is a perfect time to sign up to be a UGA mentor! You can get your profile together, have your questions answered and familiarize yourself with the resources available online all before the students return in the fall. Registering for the Mentor 101 webinar scheduled for August 3 at 3:30 p.m. ET will allow you to hear from successful pairings, learn best practices for forming a strong connection and discover tips and tricks to becoming the best mentor possible.

Pravalika noted that she appreciated the opportunity to connect with multiple mentors in a variety of ways—be it a 16-week mentorship or 15-30-minute Quick Chats. She also loved that there is a diverse group of mentors in the program—and there is always room for more!

A student is coming in the fall who can benefit from your unique perspective and experience. And it may just surprise you how much you get from giving back this way. Sign up today!

 

 

Leveling the playing field

In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, the UGA Mentor Program is focusing on what it means to be neurodivergent and is emphasizing how asking for accommodations is not seeking an unfair advantage—it is simply gaining equal footing.

Meet Scott Frasard (BBA ’03, MED ’06, PHD ’11)

Scott’s higher education journey was atypical, even before he realized he was neurodivergent. He didn’t enroll in college until 12 years after graduating from high school–first working as an EMT and then paramedic. Even then, he went to school part time while continuing to work full time, eventually becoming a member of the first graduating class from UGA’s Gwinnett Campus. His college experience piqued an interest in adult education, so he continued to commute to the Gwinnett campus in pursuit of a Master of Education. He then moved to Athens to take courses on UGA’s main campus, eventually earning a Ph.D. in adult education.

It wasn’t until two years ago that he learned of his autism. The formal identification sent him on a journey of discovery.

“It was definitely a learning curve for me,” said Scott. “I had to become comfortable with my autism first, before sharing with others.” Scott turned to the internet. Reframing Autism, a website for an Australian nonprofit organization, has proven helpful. So has the Autism Self Advocacy Network website.

Even though he comes from a medical background, Scott found he was more comfortable with the identity-first descriptors for his autism versus the traditional medical point of view, preferring a statement like “We are autistic” to “We have autism.”

Scott says, “Autism is my identity. You can’t separate me from my autism. Saying ‘We have autism’ implies illness and disability, and that there is something wrong with us. We are not less; we are simply wired differently.”

Leveling the playing field

Learning he was autistic after nearly 30 years of teaching prompted Scott to reevaluate his teaching practices and make changes to be inclusive of neurodivergent learners. This includes creating a safe space in his classroom—an environment that is welcoming to all. He encourages students to talk about what they need up front before it becomes a problem. He shares things about himself to make students more comfortable to talk about themselves.

“I prepare others to expect ‘stimming’ or self-soothing behaviors they might see me do to help regulate my emotions,” explains Scott. He alerts people to his bluntness and explains that they should not perceive it as rudeness; he is simply getting straight to the point. Scott notes that because he interprets language extremely literally, he has learned to ask lots of clarifying questions. These advanced explanations help stem frustration on both sides of his interactions with others. Scott has learned to have these conversations not only with his students, but with his co-workers as well.

“In the hiring process for my last job, I was up front with HR and the hiring managers,” said Scott. “It helped them understand why I asked for what I needed and why these were reasonable accommodations.”

Scott is extremely sensitive to external stimuli. Sounds and movements easily distract him. They grab attention away from what he wants to focus on and create anxiety. For instance, fluorescent lights that flicker and buzz—something neurotypical people ignore or don’t even notice—are quite disruptive. So, Scott works remotely from his home. Like many autistic people, Scott is an introvert. His co-workers understand his need to block out time in his calendar to prepare for and/or decompress from meetings.

Bringing his experience to the Mentor Program

As a mentor in the UGA Mentor Program, Scott uses his experience to help students navigate their UGA journeys. He wants to empower students to ask for what they need from the start.

“Professors understand that to truly measure what someone has learned, they have to remove the barriers that disrupt the measurement,” Scott said. “If students need more time to process test questions and need a quiet environment in which to concentrate, these are not bonuses. They are not asking for extra; they’re seeking equal opportunity to perform at their best.”


Your uniqueness is valuable.

Your experiences may help a student on their UGA journey. Discover how fulfilling being a mentor can be.


Learn more.

Find out what it means to be neurodivergent and how you can be an ally to the autistic community. UGA Mentor Program Ambassador Cassie Turner, Class of 2022, sat down for a discussion with Scott in an episode of RealTalk, the UGA Mentor Program’s podcast.


Know a student struggling at UGA?

Scott is just one amazing professional available to serve as a mentor. In fact, the Mentor Program platform makes it easy for students to search through thousands of experienced faculty, staff and alumni mentors to find someone who matches their interests and background and can relate to their strengths and challenges.

Basketball connects UGA mentor with Destination Dawg

In 2017, the University of Georgia launched Destination Dawgs to help students with intellectual disabilities gain the skills and confidence to prepare for independence and careers after graduation. Through the program, students immerse themselves in all UGA has to offer, not only gaining a fulfilling academic experience, but also a rewarding social experience.  

To help cultivate an even deeper connection with UGA, Destination Dawgs partners with the university’s Mentor Program to pair students with intellectual disabilities with alumni, faculty and staff mentors. The experience gives students insight and advice on life during and after UGA. 

It was through the UGA Mentor Program that alumnus Matt Cianfrone (AB ’12) met Jesse Pearson, a student in Destination Dawgs.

Meet Jesse

Jesse has been at UGA for about a year and will begin his third semester this fall. He is loving the campus experience, especially when he takes new classes and meets new friends.  

One of his favorite pastimes includes playing intramural basketball at the Ramsey Student Center, where he also is an intern. Jesse is passionate about basketball and hopes to become a coach for the sport after graduation.

Jesse contacted Matt through the UGA Mentor Program platform after seeing on Matt’s profile that they had a mutual interest in basketball. The two exchanged emails and found that they made a good mentoring pair since Jesse wanted advice about coaching and Matt is a coach.

Matt is a wonderful mentor,” Jesse said. “He was always kind and ready to help. We have the same interests. He seems like he is a great coach, and he knows what is expected of him and how he can help others. 

Meet Matt

Matt hails from Middlesex County in New Jersey. His hometown is small–just a single square mile–and the local high school comprising only 200 students. Attending UGA, where a single lecture hall can fit that many people, was an enormous shock to Matt.

Despite the drastic change in environment, Matt loved his time on campus. And although he has since returned to New Jersey to teach and coach basketball, he’s still connected to UGA and is eager to help students identify their passions.  

“Any way I could stay connected to campus was a big thing for me, so I jumped at the opportunity to sign up for the Mentor Program,” Matt said. “If I can help a couple people here and there, it is definitely worth it.” 

Their connection

After becoming mentor and mentee, Matt and Jesse often talked over the phone. Despite Matt living nearly 800 miles away from Athens, the two formed a meaningful connection, and Matt provided Jesse with valuable advice. 

“I learned so much from Matt and from his experience,” Jesse said. “Matt encouraged me to keep pursuing coaching. He explained that even if I do not stick to coaching, it would be reasonable to still find a career related to sports and the field I am passionate about.” 

As Matt mentored Jesse, giving him advice and telling him the steps that he took to become a coach, he found himself reflecting on his own journey. Their conversations allowed for both Matt and Jesse to grow and learn from each other, all while sharing their love of basketball.  

The entire process was wonderful,” Matt said. “I already cannot wait to continue on as a UGA mentor, talking to more students and helping in any way that I can.”


Interested in connecting with students and contributing to their success? Sign up to be a UGA Mentor today! You’ll be amazed at how much you get back from giving in this way.

BECOME A MENTOR DONATE TO DESTINATION DAWGS

Navigating a male-dominated space

In honor of Women’s History Month, the UGA Mentor Program is saluting women making strides in traditionally male-dominated fields and the men serving as allies for them. Meet UGA mechanical engineering student Camila Daffre, Class of 2024, and her mentor Aaron Stafford (BSME ’19).

The fact that Aaron was once the lone male on an otherwise all-female team helped him develop empathy for the challenges women face in the male-dominated world of mechanical engineering.

Camila is grateful for the additional people she’s met through Aaron’s introductions. “He has placed me in contact with a diverse group–not just ethnically diverse, but also people at different points in their careers–engineers just starting families and working moms who have risen in the profession. Their insight has been valuable in helping me plan for my future,” Camila said.

Introducing Camila to others in his workplace has benefited Aaron as well. “Connecting Camila with colleagues has raised my profile and strengthened relationships within my company,” Aaron said. “It helps that Camila is always prepared for these chats and asks such amazing questions. I hear good things back from my co-workers after a discussion with Camila.”

When Camila and Aaron met, their connection was instant. It has proven to be lasting, too, extending far beyond a standard 16-week mentorship and spanning a multitude of topics besides her chosen career path. Camilla now characterizes Aaron as “my life mentor.” They have been meeting up virtually every other week for two years now.

The format they’ve established for their meetings is based on the question, “What’s a challenge you’ve faced this week?” And the feedback/problem-solving flows both ways between the two of them. “I appreciate Camila’s perspective,” said Aaron. “Our relationship helps me prepare to be a manager down the line.”

Your experience could mean so much to a student following in your footsteps. Discover the joy of serving as a mentor. It may amaze you how much you get out of giving back in this way.

Wait, there’s more!

Camila first sought to connect with Aaron because she found herself torn between the choice to pursue a manufacturing or a corporate path in mechanical engineering. Aaron has experience in both. To find out which path Camila chose and hear more from this duo about their dynamic mentorship connection, check out this episode of RealTalk, the UGA Mentor Program’s podcast.

And even more!

Join Women of UGA for the first Mentorship Monday of 2022, a virtual panel discussion with women in traditionally male-dominated spaces on Monday, March 21 at noon.

Representation matters

In honor of Black History Month, the UGA Mentor Program highlights the warm relationship between two outstanding student mentees, current UGA law student, Sydney Cederboom (AB ’21, AB ’21), and Belen Gad, Class of 2022, and their phenomenal mentor, Stacey Chavis (MSL ’19).

The UGA Mentor Program understands that representation matters. Students want to feel seen and validated by a mentor who shares aspects of their identity. Advice from a mentor who previously dealt with a common circumstance is more credible than recommendations from someone who has never had to handle the same situation.

“I would encourage all our Black alumni to mentor,” says Stacey. “Open yourself to the process. There are so many resources available to help guide you in building a relationship. Mentoring opened my eyes to different things and I learn a lot in return.”

“I’m not alone in my experiences”

In honor of Black History Month, the University of Georgia Mentor Program is highlighting the support available to Black male students through a partnership with the Georgia African American Male Experience (GAAME) Scholars Program.

Jakhari Gordon (Class of 2025) is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Computer Systems Engineering in UGA’s College of Engineering, far from his Virginia home. He considers himself a family-oriented person, but has learned to stand on his own two feet at UGA thanks to support from others who traveled the same path before him.

“UGA has a community around it and a very big alumni network; UGA is full of opportunity” said Gordon. He took advantage of those opportunities, becoming involved in the Georgia African American Male Experience (GAAME) Scholars Program and the UGA Mentor Program.

The GAAME Scholars Program provides holistic support to undergraduate African American male students who are seeking to enhance their UGA experience through activities that honor and affirm their identities. It was through GAAME that Gordon met Marques Dexter (MS ’09, PHD ’24), interim director of the program, who encouraged him to join the UGA Mentor Program.

“It’s been amazing to support students like Jakhari, particularly through the UGA Mentor Program,” said Dexter. “I know what it’s like being an out of state and far from home student, just like Jakhari. It was through connecting with others who looked like me–faculty, staff and alumni–that I was able to thrive at my institution. Having the privilege to instill the mindset that mentoring works, while emphasizing that I am where I am today because of mentorship, brings me full circle.”

Gordon found common ground with his mentor, Raymond Phillips (BS ’12, MBA ’18), and the two connected on many levels. In addition to being a senior technology and process improvement consultant in metro Atlanta, Raymond is a past president of the UGA Black Alumni Leadership Council.

“It was important that my mentor was a male African American like me. Growing up, I did not have much of a male influence,” Gordon said. “You think you’re the only person who has been through your situation, but I enjoyed talking with Raymond and seeing the differences and similarities between our times at UGA. The people ahead of us want to help us avoid  pitfalls. Everyone should look to connect with a mentor. That one person can change the course of what you’re doing or confirm the path you’re on.”

Dexter agrees, “My mentors saw more in me than I knew existed. The example my mentors set guides me now as I empower young men such as Jakhari to aim higher and dream bigger.”

Full-circle moments: The UGA Mentor Program at its finest

[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.