Mentors gain as much as mentees in new college mentoring program

Mentor Bette Brand and her mentee Kendall Freed (from left) talk with mentee Matt Rowe about the college mentoring program.

When she signed up to be a mentor, Bette Brand had a pretty good idea that she would be able to offer some wisdom and advice to a young Virginia Tech student.

What Brand didn’t expect was how much she would get out of the program.

“Any time you are around college students and feel their enthusiasm, it really helps you feel connected to them,” Brand said, as she looked fondly at Kendall Freed, her mentee over the last eight months. “We really feel connected, and I consider us to be friends.”

Brand was one of 15 mentors who recently wrapped up the first year of the new mentoring program aimed at connecting students to professionals who can help guide them through the transition from student life to the working world.

The program was established by the CALS Alumni Organization and made possible by an endowment created to support mentoring for agribusiness students and unrestricted gifts to the Dean’s Fund for Excellence.

Students, alumni, and friends of the college who completed the program all said they were able to fulfill their role in the mentor-mentee relationship, but they gained more than that from the program — they gained a friend.

“This has been a very rewarding year for me to have a chance to interact with Jake, and hopefully we will continue our conversation,” said Ed Scott, the alumnus who mentored Jake Tabor. “I see this as something that doesn’t end.”

Students and mentors are paired according to their interests, and Tabor — who wants to run for public office one day — was ecstatic to be paired with Scott, a former member of the House of Delegates and a 1987 graduate in animal and poultry sciences.

Scott took Tabor on tours of the state Capitol, where Tabor met with the Virginia secretary of agriculture and forestry, the chair of the House Education Committee, and other movers and shakers.

“Meeting the most powerful man in agriculture in Virginia and getting to pick his brain about the future of agriculture and his own career path was amazing,” Tabor said.

Like many of the mentees, Freed received invaluable exposure to people in her career path — agricultural lending. Freed shadowed a lender at Farm Credit for a day and was able to make connections she wouldn’t have otherwise. Brand is a 1982 graduate of the animal and poultry science program and chief sales officer at Farm Credit.

Freed also gained a lot more from the program than she expected.

“I thought I’d get some networking and job shadowing opportunities, but I didn’t realize I’d have such a tight relationship with my mentor, which was a wonderful surprise,” Freed said.