“Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
— Martin Luther King Jr.
Reflecting on the words and works of Martin Luther King Jr. in the month that celebrates his life — and National Mentoring Month — members of Arizona State University’s multifaceted community continue to carry forward King’s servant-leadership legacy through service and mentorship.
YP CoNext@ASU is one such program that’s working to connect ASU students with mentors interested in helping them explore and achieve their professional goals. A community partnership between ASU and the Greater Phoenix Urban League Young Professionals (YP), YP CoNext@ASU leans into foundational pillars of leadership, life skills and community service in its aim to transition college students into high performing young professionals. Applying the innovative mentoring at scale approach developed at ASU to create a more expansive model of ASU’s virtual career assets, the YP CoNext@ASU program allows students access to help that is personalized to their interests, schedules and needs.
“Our members are professionals in a variety of industries, including physicians, engineers, lawyers, accountants, educators, entrepreneurs and elected officials,” said Ashlee Atkins, president of the Greater Phoenix Urban League Young Professionals. Atkins, who also serves in the role of diversity manager for ASU Enterprise Partners, says the partnership between YP CoNext and ASU was a natural fit when the collaboration began in the fall of 2020 when ASU President Michael Crow announced a list of 25 actions that became the LIFT (Listen, Invest, Facilitate, Teach) Initiative, designed to enhance the lived and learned experiences of Black students, faculty and staff at ASU.
“This partnership made sense,” Atkins said. “As we are developing our young professionals, we also wanted to develop the Black students who are coming up behind us as we were once in their shoes. We also know how valuable it is to have a mentor while transitioning from college into the workforce. A lot of us wish we had this program growing up.”
Kyle Grout, a junior studying business financial planning in ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business, is one of the dozens of active student mentees taking part and making the most of the mentorship resources available through YP CoNext@ASU. The California native and Marine Corps veteran said he got involved in the program because he wanted to connect on campus with other like-minded students from diverse backgrounds like himself.
“I also found the opportunity to learn one-on-one from a mentor with experience in the corporate world and the perspective of a minority to be a valuable insight into my future career and possible situations I may find myself in,” Grout said. His mentor, Ray Gibson, an enrolled agent and tax accountant who recently opened his own tax and accounting firm, says mentoring has been a rewarding experience for him as well.
“Mentoring is important to me because it is a fair exchange between individuals that creates a bond that normally would not have been established,” Gibson said. “Training is most enjoyable because it offers a different perspective than my own. Everyone has a story. I was once in my mentee’s shoes. Listening, learning and setting the bar for myself and others motivates me as a mentor.”
Suma Hodge, another YP CoNext@ASU mentor and a professional counselor says mentoring is an important way to give back as “an older friend” and guide someone who may be navigating challenges and uncertainty in their personal and professional lives.
“As the oldest of my siblings, I was always looked up to, and had to ‘fake it until I made it.’ I spent a lot of time winging it. I wish that I did not have to,” said Hodge. “(As a mentor) I want to be someone that I wish I had. That’s what motivates me — to show up however they need me to. I feel like a chameleon at times. I could be a cheerleader one day, counselor the next and then a teacher or a coach at the buzzer.”
Hodge is that cheerleader, counselor, teacher and coach at the buzzer for Mariah Buchanan, who recently graduated from ASU’s College of Health Solution with a degree in medical studies. Buchanan says she has learned much from Hodge through their mentor-mentee relationship and is enjoying new experiences along the journey.
“I have been to conference meetings, painting events, MLK marches. I am starting to feel like I really am important in this organization,” Buchanan said. “My mentor is so reliable, relatable, hilariously funny and very honest. She really is inspiring because she speaks her mind and drives a Tesla — doesn’t get better than that.”
Hodge, who also owns a behavioral health consultation practice, also serves as the parliamentarian on the YP board. She says the in-school support that YP CoNext@ASU provides makes it a standout among other mentoring programs, in addition to being a one-of-a-kind program that is specific to Black and African American students.
“You are connecting young aspiring professionals with current professionals that they may not have had access to otherwise,” Hodge said. “They are learning how to advocate for their educational and professional needs that will help them in their future careers. This program is strategic in its matching and connects the right people and gives them space to make it their own within a professional construct. The professional training that is held on the weekends also allows for another opportunity to be prepared to face the ‘real world’ with more tools and armor.”
Buchanan, who currently works for a medical infusion center, says YP CoNext@ASU has been valuable in getting her connected with professionals in her field of study and the community at large. Grout also calls his experience with YP CoNext valuable and says he would be delighted to pay forward the benefits he has received in a mentor role someday when he has gained more experience in his chosen career path.
“I would recommend this program to students who want to get involved on campus and create a connection with an expert in the field they may be pursuing,” Grout said. “The YP CoNext mentors are caring and versatile people that make an effort to help you reach your goals, and together you can have a lot of fun doing this along the way.”
In 2021, in alignment with the LIFT Initiative commitment to encourage more participation in mentoring activities, the number of approved release time was increased from 16 to 24 hours annually to offer more options for ASU personnel to engage in university mentor or mentee programs.
According to Educational Outreach and Student Services, about 40 students participated in the YP CoNext@ASU program in 2021. The cohort was composed of students from various schools and colleges across ASU, including: College of Health Solutions, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, New College, The College, Thunderbird School of Global Management, W. P. Carey School of Business and Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.
For those who would like to become a part of the next cohort for YP CoNext@ASU, Atkins says recruitment for the program typically begins in the summer. She says information and an interest application form can be found on the Greater Phoenix Urban League Young Professionals website as well as the ASU Mentor Network website, which provides additional information about mentoring opportunities for ASU students, faculty and staff.
“Mentoring is important in any stage of our lives, whether it is for personal development or career guidance,” Atkins said. “No matter what age you are, it allows us to learn from the life experiences, skill sets and knowledge of others, and can help us make informed decisions. I enjoy being the champion and cheerleader for our mentees and seeing them take advantage of the resources provided to them as it’s only going to help them in the future.”
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”
— Martin Luther King Jr.
Top photo by Lagos Techie via Unsplash