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Mentoring Matters

April 19, 2018
man and woman at a piano
Lora Sherrodd works with Director of Jazz Studies Ben Markley.

One-on-one mentoring provides students with the knowledge and support they need to succeed. 

By Micaela Myers 

If you walked into the famous Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at Lincoln Center May 1, 2017, you would have seen the University of Wyoming’s Jazz Ensemble tearing it up with celebrated trumpeter Terell Stafford, the lights of New York City stretched out behind them for a magical and unforgettable night.

“The New York trip was amazing,” says music major and jazz vocalist Lora Sherrodd, who was a freshman at the time. “I walked off the stage with Terell, and he turned to me and said, ‘Girl, you made my night.’ He went on and on. It was such a huge honor to have him say that to me.”

Sherrodd turned down a significant scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston to come to UW. In large part, what swayed her was the chance to work with Director of Jazz Studies Ben Markley. “If I went to Berklee, I’d just be another number, another vocalist,” she says. “Working with him (Markley), I’ve been able to be on an album, sing with a few of the artists in residency, sing with the jazz band and go to New York. It’s nice when you have someone behind you who is cheering you on and who knows what steps you need to take to get where you want to go.” 

Lora Sherrodd ‘Apprentices’ with Ben Markley

Sherrodd met Markley when she was still a student at Laramie High School. She began taking lessons with him then, and the lessons have continued along with jazz classes.

“I tell her in a lot of lessons, ‘I want you to go get an assistantship at one of the best schools in the country,’ ” Markley says. “One of the things I bring to my job is that I have a lot of professional experience, and I try to really draw on that. I see it as more of an apprenticeship relationship. I really make it a point to show the kids what I’m working on so that they see a product from start to finish. That seems to have a strong impact on our students. They come back hungry for more.”

Sherrodd, now a sophomore, is heeding Markley’s advice on graduate school. “If he thinks I can do it, then I think I can do it, too.” After that, she plans to work as a professional vocalist.

In addition to working with Markley, Sherrodd takes classical voice lessons with Professor Katrina Zook and sings with Bel Canto Women’s Chorus, the Jazz Ensemble and local bands.

“Being here, you have smaller classes, and you’re able to speak to the professors one on one,” Sherrodd says. Her twin sister, Kayla, is in the nursing program and the Honors College and has also received one-on-one mentorship from professors. “People take the time to recognize you’re doing something good and to help you become successful. They know who you are and what your goals are. That’s what sets UW apart.”

To incoming students, Markley advises that they learn all they can from professors they admire. “I encourage them to not let grass grow under their feet,” he says. “Be goal-oriented in what you want.”

three people standing together
Students Jasper Hunt and Anne Chenchar pose with instructor Rachel Watson at Undergraduate Research Day. (Courtesy photo)

Jasper Hunt Performs Research with Robin Barry

Junior psychology and philosophy major Jasper Hunt proves the benefits of reaching out to professors. “I was looking for research experience straight from the beginning, because it’s a passion of mine,” says Hunt, who moved from Florida to Laramie during middle school. He introduced himself to Department of Psychology Assistant Professor Robin Barry. She was just getting her lab started, and he became the first student in the door.

The lab is conducting a caregiver study, which may lead to development of tools to help caregivers. Hunt helped design the study, select the measures, write protocols and more. After establishing himself in the lab, he also was mentored by Barry through an independent project in which Hunt examined the romantic language that couples use.

“She really supported me and gave me the opportunity to explore this linguistic interest of mine, which led to a presentation at the Rocky Mountain Psychological Association,” Hunt says. “It also led to a presentation at Wyoming Undergraduate Research Day, which was incredibly beneficial.
I was fortunate to receive the Phi Beta Kappa award for successful integration of science and the arts.”

Through working in Barry’s lab, Hunt realized that he wants to pursue graduate school in psychology and a career in academia. At UW, he has been involved with the Psychology Club, is a member of the Abilities recognized student organization and is studying abroad this semester in Scotland.

“One of the great things about UW is that it’s a large enough university that there are a ton of different research projects that you can become involved in, but it’s also small enough and intimate enough that if you do have a specific interest, the professors are willing to work with you to help you explore those interests,” Hunt says.

Barry agrees: “I think that ability to do the kind of work you ultimately want to do, where you’re getting the one-on-one mentorship, is really key to people’s success. I always encourage students to talk to their professors. We also do a lot of career mentorship, networking and write letters of recommendation. It’s never too late, but the earlier you get started, the more you get to explore.”

three people talking at a table
Sara Mena-Vargas (left) meets with her mentors, Director of Transfer Relations Mary Aguayo and student Aisha Balogun, at Rendezvous on campus.

Sara Mena-Vargas is Mentored by Mary Aguayo and Aisha Balogun

In addition to professors mentoring students, there are formal mentorship programs at UW, including the Multicultural Student Leadership Initiative—a collaboration between Multicultural Affairs and Service, Leadership and Community Engagement.

“The purpose is to encourage and nurture underrepresented ethnic minorities to take on leadership roles and have active involvement,” says Manager of Multicultural Affairs Conrad Chavez Jr. “Mentees are paired with a peer mentor and a faculty/staff mentor, which forms a triad. New first-year freshmen and transfer students take part in a series of leadership workshops during the fall semester. During the spring semester, mentees will form teams that will carry out social change projects.”

This year, there are 10 triads, and the triads are encouraged to meet at least twice a month.

Sara Mena-Vargas transferred from Casper College last fall and is majoring in English secondary education. She hopes to earn her English as a second language endorsement and go on to become a teacher. At UW, she’s a member of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán, or MEChA. “MEChA has helped me branch out and make me feel closer to my Mexican culture,” she says.

Mena-Vargas heard about the mentorship program, and it sparked her interest. “This program is beneficial because it allows people to build a network that can aid them in the future at the university,” she says. Mena-Vargas is paired with Director of Transfer Relations Mary Aguayo and computer engineering sophomore Aisha Balogun. “I have loved and enjoyed my time working with Aisha and Mary,” she says. “I feel as though I am always able to tell them my worries, and we always work on bettering ourselves.”

Aguayo says: “I’m a mentor for the first time this year, and I’ve been blown away by the high-quality, brilliant students I’ve been paired with. We’ve had so much fun together. I’ve had them over to my house, and we’ve watched movies and had dinner. We’ve met up for coffee or sodas at Rendezvous. We’ve been to different university events like the big Thanksgiving dinner in the Union and the MLK Days of Dialogue keynote speaker.”

Balogun, who came to UW from Nigeria at the age of 16, was a mentee her first year and now serves as a student mentor. “It really helped me transition into college, especially since I was coming from a completely different place,” she says. “One of the ways it helped was having someone who has been through this process with you.”

In addition to the mentorship program, Balogun is an outreach ambassador for the College of Engineering and Applied Science and conducts undergraduate research with a humanoid robot, Nao. “Right now, I’m working on a project to see how it can be applicable in the field of medicine, pediatric care to be specific,” she says. “I love the faculty at UW and the research opportunities. I find it really impressive and amazing that opportunities like this are available for students across all levels. UW is a great place to be.”

two people talking with a mannequin behind them
Using motion-capture markers on student Meghan Critchley, student Daniel Davis (right) researches jump-landing mechanics and anterior cruciate ligament injury risks with Professor Boyi Dai.

Daniel Davis Succeeds with Boyi Dai

For the past two years, kinesiology senior Daniel Davis has been working with Associate Professor Boyi Dai in the Biomechanics Laboratory. Davis’s undergraduate research led to several fellowships, including the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates that allowed him to study at East Carolina University, and the UW College of Health Sciences’ Aspire program. He presented at national conferences and co-wrote a manuscript in review. After graduation this spring, Davis will head straight to the doctoral program in kinesiology at Pennsylvania State University with a full graduate assistantship.

“It’s one of the best in the nation,” Dai says, noting Penn State has been ranked No. 1 several times in kinesiology and health. “Not a lot of undergraduates go directly to a doctorate.”

Undergraduate research was key to being accepted into this prestigious program, Davis says. “Getting to experience different labs and research protocols has helped me know what I want to do. Also, when I start in graduate school, I’ll have a leg up.”

The Biomechanics Lab at UW focuses on injury and sports biomechanics. Researchers there work to understand why injuries occur so that those injuries can be better prevented.

Davis, who is originally from Gillette, Wyo., could see himself becoming a professor. “I would also like to do work with a company like Nike or Adidas or another sportswear company where I could help them develop new shoes,” he says, noting that footwear can be optimized for athletic performance.

In addition to his research, Davis, a Trustees’ Scholar, has played intramural sports and worked as a teaching assistant. He appreciates UW’s approachable professors, resources and support.

Dai says the low student-to-faculty ratio and small class sizes set UW apart. “It gives us the time and the space to work with students individually. Students can come to my office and talk to me anytime they want. At the same time, I think UW is very good at providing resources for students to fund undergraduate research, and we encourage it.”


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