Co-written by: Michelle Mullins
There are often limits to what one’s peers and professional network can offer. Mentors can serve as a third-party resource to help their mentees navigate their professional journey. Mentors can instill confidence in their mentees, and provide them with access to opportunities that would unavailable otherwise. While many individuals have had a mentor in their life at some point, no two relationships are the same. To learn more about mentors, The Daily Duke sat down with Lynn Lang (mentor), and Tricey Splan (mentee), to gain a better understanding of what it takes to have and maintain a successful mentorship.
Lynn and Tricey first connected through an educational scholarship, provided by the Arlington County Scholarship Fund for Teachers, Inc. (ACSFfT), that Tricey received her senior year at Washington-Lee High School. The scholarship is granted to students who are pursuing a career in education. Lynn and her husband Jeff annually sponsor the scholarship under the Arlington Retired Teachers Association (ARTA), in honor of Jeff’s mother, Adele Lang. Adele worked as a counselor as well as a teacher in the Arlington Public Schools (APS). In addition to Jeff’s mother, Lynn also worked for APS for 33 years, holding a variety of roles including Teacher, Language Arts Specialist and Special Education Administrator until she retired in 1998.
Lynn and her husband often receive thank you notes from scholarship recipients, yet Tricey’s thank you note stood out to Lynn because of a personal connection. Tricey’s letter detailed her plan to attend James Madison University, Lynn’s alma mater, in the fall of 2015. While they did not know it at the time, this connection marked the beginning of their relationship.
Currently, Tricey is a junior English major with a double minor in secondary education and interdisciplinary studies. Following graduation, she plans to complete JMU’s fifth year Master’s program in education. One day, Tricey hopes to return to APS to teach high school English. She explains, “I had a really amazing and positive experience growing up [in APS], so I am looking forward to giving back to Arlington Public Schools as a teacher!” As a member of the Honors College, Tricey serves as vice president of the Madison Honors Leadership Council. She is also the acting president of Best Buddies, a JMU organization that works to promote inclusion and acceptance for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Tricey is proud of her accomplishments but accredits much of her success to the people who supported her, such as Lynn.
What began as a back and forth of emails between the two women quickly grew into face-to-face meetings at JMU. Although Lynn currently lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, she frequently returns to JMU’s campus because of her involvement in the Honors Advisory Council. Whenever she visits, she makes it a priority to catch up with Tricey over a meal at Panera Bread. Their conversations will often include a variety of topics. From discussing Tricey’s career aspirations to exchanging their families’ waffle recipes, their chats are anything but dull.
While Lynn’s role as a mentor is largely that of a supporter, advisor and active listener, she does not consider their relationship to be a one-way street. Lynn stated in our interview, “I learn a lot from Tricey. It has been exciting to see her mature over time, as her academic pursuits have become more advanced.”
After several meetings, Lynn was able to identify where Tricey might need guidance. Specifically, she assisted her mentee in acquiring a faculty coach from within the School of Education. With the assistance of Karen Wheatley, Lynn connected Tricey with Dr. Melanie Shoffner, an Associate Professor of English Education at JMU. Through this connection, Tricey is able to have a support system on campus, even when Lynn is not there. This campus network would not have been possible without a mentor’s guiding hand. Although Tricey is planning on graduating in the spring of 2019, Lynn and Tricey plan to continue their relationship for years to come.
As Lynn has said, “I think people who are successful in their life, somewhere they had someone take an interest in them.” Lynn herself had a mentor in graduate school. Having a mentor is as simple as reaching out to those around you. Referencing her own experiences, Tricey believes, “…that it is important to look for the connections you share with people. You may feel intimidated or uncertain at first, but lay a foundation and start small.”
No matter what one’s major is, or where they plan on working in the future, everyone can benefit from having a mentor. One of the best ways for students to develop connections and find their own mentor is through the existing alumni networks that JMU has to offer. Lynn concluded our interview by stating how, “…there is currently a strong connection to JMU alums. It really works. Stay open and flexible. Be willing to listen to what other people have to say. Your ideas may not be the only good ideas. Life is so much of an ebb and flow; a great back and forth.”
How has a mentor impacted your life, Dukes? Share your story in the comments!