How Mentorship Connects Students to Wildcat Community and Success

January is National Mentoring Month, and Johnson & Wales University has no shortage of incredible mentoring opportunities that strengthen the Wildcat community. From jwuGold, a program fueled by staff and faculty who partner with incoming commuter students, to the newly established Faculty Mentoring Program, which pairs first-year students with a professor for their entire time at JWU, it’s clear that Johnson & Wales is dedicated to supporting its students as they navigate their college experience.

“This is my third year as a mentor, and I love this program!” said admissions marketing print production coordinator Kerry McKinnon, who mentors with jwuGOLD. “This program has truly been a highlight of my experience here at JWU, it’s very rewarding to see the students thrive and succeed.”

A male mentor advises a female student in a JWU lobby.

Mentorship Builds a Connection to Campus

Kicking off its third year in August, jwuGOLD welcomed 38 new and returning faculty and staff mentors along with 41 student mentees.

“My goal is for my mentee to gain a sense of belonging in our JWU community and to have Wildcat Pride,” reference librarian and jwuGOLD mentor Meika Matook said.

Through its mentorship programs, JWU works to make sure every student feels that sense of belonging — for jwuGOLD, that priority lies with commuter students, who may struggle to find their place at college when living off-campus.

“I chose to mentor with jwuGOLD because I was a commuter student the entire duration of my undergraduate and graduate college career and understand firsthand the disconnect that a commuter student can feel from campus,” mentor Nicole MacCoy said. “Oftentimes, commuter students are juggling an intense work/life balance, so the goal is to get to campus, complete your courses, and get back to outside responsibilities.”

jwuGOLD mentors span departments across the whole university — from student academic counseling, where MacCoy spends her days, to university marketing where mentor Peggy Lo works as the university’s digital asset manager.

“It is my privilege to give back and help strengthen the JWU community.”

“It is my privilege to give back and help strengthen the JWU community,” Lo said. “As an immigrant and single parent, I am incredibly fortunate to live a good and productive life — thanks to the mentors (formal and informal) who helped me along the way.”

Mentorship Makes a Difference

In addition to jwuGOLD, faculty form mentoring relationships with students and act as guides and resources through the Faculty Mentoring Program, which pairs every first-year student with a faculty member in the college of their major. The pair meet three times per semester for their entire four years at JWU. Department of Health Science chair and associate professor Cara Sammartino, Ph.D., sees every meeting with a student as an opportunity to make a difference in their day, or even their life.

Mentoring ... should also let the student know that you care about their overall well-being as a person.

“Mentoring should not only focus on course logistics, but it should also let the student know that you care about their overall well-being as a person and just having a person that cares can be the difference maker a student needs to feel supported,” Sammartino said.

The Faculty Mentoring Program is still in its infancy — it launched fall 2021, and even in that short time, Paul Sylvestre, Ph.D., has been able to work with more than 30 student mentees.

“While the jwuGOLD program includes both faculty and staff volunteers, the faculty mentor program is more academically oriented, as these mentors are always faculty members from a student’s specific college,” Sylvestre said.

Male faculty and mentee talk in a computer lab.

The goal is to promote interactions between faculty mentors and their mentees from day one through graduation. Sylvestre, a professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice, serves as a mentor for both jwuGOLD and the Faculty Mentoring Program.

“I think a critical piece of both [programs] is to be able to impress upon mentees that the difficulties they may be experiencing are not an anomaly that is unique to them but common among all college students,” Sylvestre said. “It is important that mentors, regardless of program, are able to relate difficulties that they themselves may have experienced as they adjusted to college.”

A Universitywide Focus

It’s not just on the Providence Campus where students will find this resource. Charlotte Campus professor Howard Slutzky, who teaches in the College of Arts & Science, says the guidance goes beyond the classroom.

“I find that authenticity and kindness, coupled with the clinical expertise I bring to our curriculum, creates an opening for students who are longing for someone in whom they can confide for matters that extend beyond the academic and into the personal,” Slutzky said.

While change is not always easy, these mentors hope to make it a bit more seamless for students first arriving as well as those getting ready to go out into the professional world. “I find meaning in helping them navigate potential challenges,” Charlotte Campus Dean of Students Amber Perrell, Ed.D., said.

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