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Friday, September 22, 2023

Mentorship programs at UF provide students with an outlet during the pandemic

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Madison Miguelez watched her laptop screen as her peers ran around their bedrooms, frantically searching for objects to recreate famous pieces of art like “The Scream” and “Girl With Pearl Earring.” 

The 19-year-old UF English sophomore is the mentorship director for the Hispanic Student Association’s Member Leadership Program, which aims to enhance students’ programming, marketing, financing and professional skills. One of Miguelez’s responsibilities for this semester was managing the event where mentors are revealed to their mentees. 

COVID-19 continues to prevent and limit in-person events, but UF organizations are determined to maintain their mentorship programs during a time when intentional friendship and vulnerability are needed more than ever. 

MLP accepts about 40 to 50 students every semester. Miguelez said she wanted every student to experience the excitement of meeting their mentor for the first time, regardless of if they were attending online or in person.  

“It was a little scary at first,” Miguelez said. “I was happy that it ended up being an adaptable type of event.”

Some organizations have even witnessed a spike in mentorship involvement. Maria Karla Leon, the assistant chair for the mentorship program with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said that she was hoping for at least 10 applicants to the program, but they got over 100. 

“I think it’s because people aren’t on campus, and they are really looking for an outlet,” Leon said.

The 20-year-old UF international studies sophomore said mentor and mentee pairs post pictures of their meetups on the group’s Facebook page, with some grabbing meals at Relish while others photoshop mustaches onto their Zoom screen captures. 

“You go in looking for one thing, and you walk out with a meaningful friendship,” Leon said. 

The CLAS program is not the only organization that witnessed an unexpected willingness from its members to guide prospective mentees. 

Sigma Phi Lambda president Kayla Shawver said many of the girls within the sorority expressed interest in being bigs this semester. Shawver and other members of the Christian sorority’s executive board warned them that the dynamic would likely not be the same as it had been with their bigs last year.    

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“Most of them were like, ‘Yes, I still want to do it, I want that bond because I feel like I’ve been poured into, and I want to pour into somebody,’” Shawver said. “They all shocked me in the best way possible.” 

The 21-year-old UF advertising senior said she believes that the COVID-19 pandemic has positively impacted the intentionality of the relationships between the bigs and littles. The sorority refers to it as spiritual mentorship.  

“We’re all here for the same reason: to grow in our faith and grow in our faith together,” Shawver said.

Shawver’s little lives in Jennings hall, which strictly prohibits visitation from anyone who doesn’t live in the same building or on the same floor. This new rule doesn’t prevent the pair from attending Greenhouse Church together every Sunday morning, however.

Not all mentor and mentee pairs have the opportunity to interact outside of the virtual world. Kendall Davis became a mentee within the UF Business Undergraduate Mentorship Program this Fall and has communicated with her mentor exclusively through a screen. 

The 19-year-old UF finance sophomore said she believes she could have established a deeper social bond with her mentor if they had been able to do simple things like meet up for coffee. 

“Our relationship could be a lot stronger if it was in person,” Davis said.

Despite the limitations, Davis said she still has a solid relationship with her mentor, and she plans to apply to become a mentor for the Spring. 

“Anytime you have an issue or you feel stressed or you need help you can just go to your mentor and ask them literally anything, and they know exactly what to tell you,” Davis said.

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Abigail Hasebroock

Abigail is a second-year journalism major covering university general assignment news for The Alligator. When she’s not catching up on school or reporting, she’s spending time outside, reading or reorganizing her Spotify playlists - usually all at the same time. 

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