As a philosophy major, Charles F. Reynolds (Col ’69) knew that he wanted to go to medical school. He found help in following that unorthodox path from David Harned, then chair of UVA’s Department of Religious Studies.
“David was a wonderful mentor and friend,” says Reynolds, who is a professor of geriatric psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School. “He knew of my interest in philosophy and theology, but was very supportive of my desire to become a physician. And the things I learned from him have stayed with me over the ensuing 40 years, so it was a great gift that he gave me.”
As a participant in the Virginia Alumni Mentoring program, Reynolds now hopes to give that same gift to students who are in the early stages of their career paths. VAM began as a pilot project of the College Foundation in 2013. Last October, an expanded version of the program launched as a collaboration between the Alumni Association and the University Career Center. It matches students who are interested in a certain profession with graduates who are established in that field. The mentor and student talk once a month for six months, by phone or email.
“This is a way that alumni can give back that’s not monetary,” says Kathleen Herring, the VAM program coordinator. “We’re not asking them to donate money. We’re asking them for their time and advice and experience. So it’s a great way for alumni to be involved with what’s currently happening on Grounds, and to be involved in the lives of students and feel a connection back to the University.”
The program, which is aimed primarily at second- and third-year students, has made nearly 300 matches between mentors and mentees.
For third-year student Samantha Bellows (Col ’16), VAM has helped ease the transition from being a premed major to being a pre-physician assistant major. Her mentor, Joshua Nowocin (Col ’96, Educ ’98), went back to school for a bachelor’s in physician assistant studies several years after earning an M.A. in exercise physiology, and his experiences have helped her think about her career path in new ways.
“It made me consider how I might spend my time before applying to P.A. school,” Bellows says. “I need to get a lot of clinical hours before I apply, and he opened my eyes to the fact that you can do things other than the standard path to get those hours.”
Mentors and students discuss a wide range of subjects, based on individual needs, but the first sessions are typically devoted to the basics of preparing for graduate school or getting the first job after college. Reynolds and his mentee had their second conversation in March, for example, and so far they have focused on the details of applying to medical school. But he expects that their discussions will soon broaden to include general career issues, like how to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
“It’s a terrific idea,” Reynolds says of VAM. “It’s valuable for undergraduates to have exposure to people who are in the field that they aspire to go into. They get a perspective that they wouldn’t otherwise have ready access to.”
To become a mentor or mentee, visit alumnimentoring.virginia.edu.