Mavericks mentoring Mavericks
Last summer, when a University of Texas at Arlington undergraduate public health student asked to be connected with an alumnus in their field, it sparked something bigger: a chance for current UTA students to get a first-hand look at what the public health field looks like through other Mavericks.
The request inspired the creation of the BS in Public Health Mav Mentor/Mentee program. Outreach began last fall, when Rebecca Garner, clinical associate professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation, and a group of UTA student interns developed a social media plan calling for mentors to join and connect with the next generation of public health professionals.
“The whole message is ‘We’re asking for your time to support undergraduate students who are where you were just a few years ago,’” said Garner, who also is director of the Bachelor of Science in Public Health program.
The first group of mentors comprises graduating public health students who have been equipped with leadership training through Garner’s professional development class, where they practiced mentorship and interviewing skills. Students in two of Garner’s public health classes are the first group of mentees as part of the pilot program, which is supporting approximately 75 public health students.
Garner said she hopes the program will eventually scale to support all UTA undergraduate majors seeking mentorship resources. Part of her inspiration was the struggle some of her younger students faced during the COVID-19 pandemic connecting with public health professionals.
The program also includes a collaboration with the Career Development Center, whose staff has helped facilitate connections with alumni along with providing in-class workshops and advice on creating resumes and cover letters.
Online student Aleya Abdo, a UTA senior, was an intern in the program. She calls her experience of being a public health student rewarding, but acknowledges that without the on-campus component, it can be hard to meet people. She says the mentor program is a chance to bridge that gap.
“It gives you the opportunity to network, share experiences and learn about different career paths,” Abdo said. “Public health is so broad. Mentorship can help people get an idea of what a job for them could look like.”
Susan Carrillo, an online student who graduated from UTA with her public health degree in December, served as an intern under Garner. She took an interest in helping make the program possible by drawing from some of her own student experiences.
“It was hard, at times, trying to picture what life would be like outside of college,” Carrillo said. “I feel like that is what drew me into really wanting to help create the program.”
Carrillo plans to pay it forward as a program mentor. She can share her experiences as a case aid adviser with YMCA International Services in Houston, where she helps unaccompanied immigrant minors become self-sufficient now that they are in the U.S.
Garner envisions the pilot program serving as the basis for a longer-term alumni mentorship program that taps into the capabilities of UTA students.
“Our students have so much potential, but sometimes they don’t recognize it or haven’t been told they have it,” Garner said. “Providing them with an opportunity to talk about their future career pathways and just be able to ask questions in a safe space will allow students to feel a whole lot more comfortable.”