“The goal of the program is to change lives, in small or big ways,” said Many Mejia, current M.B.A. student at the Sam M. Walton College of Business, 2019-2020 MBA Student Advisory Board member and the founder of the Walton MBA Mentorship Program.
Walton College welcomes a new era of community involvement and equitable access to higher education initiatives with the implementation of a new high school mentorship program. The program was developed by the 2019-2020 MBA Student Advisory Board and the Springdale High School Business and Information Technology Academy and involves volunteer mentors from the Walton MBA Class of 2021, academy juniors (to be mentored over the course of a two year period), and academy teachers Shannon Green and Josefina Perez.
The class of 2021 “wanted to find a way to give back to the community,” said Molly Bombonato, M.B.A. student and member of the 2019-2020 Walton MBA Student Advisory Board. “Manny was a graduate of Springdale High School and knew that a program like this could really make a difference in students’ lives,” said Lane Richmond, M.B.A. student and participating mentor.
The Walton MBA Mentorship Program launched on Oct. 25, 2019, with the inaugural Walton MBA + Springdale High School Mentorship Kickoff Event. Participating mentors were joined by Vikas Anand, executive director of the Walton MBA program, and Joseph Steinmetz, University of Arkansas chancellor. More than 30 Springdale High juniors helped celebrate the beginning of the program. Fourteen students from the class of 2021 volunteered to serve as mentors:
- Molly Bombonato (https://www.linkedin.com/in/mollybombonato/)
- Wade Carter (https://www.linkedin.com/in/wade-carter/)
- Zachary Jones (https://www.linkedin.com/in/zacharyjones4/)
- Manny Mejia (https://www.linkedin.com/in/mannymejia/)
- Haley Owen (https://www.linkedin.com/in/haleykendallowen/)
- Devon Palumbo (https://www.linkedin.com/in/devon-palumbo-898526138/)
- Lane Richmond (https://www.linkedin.com/in/lanrichmond/)
- MaryJohn Richmond (https://www.linkedin.com/in/maryjohnrichmond/)
- Michael Swanson (https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-swanson-5b562b195/)
- John Taylor (https://www.linkedin.com/in/taylor-john/)
- Giang Dang Vu (https://www.linkedin.com/in/giangdangvu/)
- Ethan Washispack (https://www.linkedin.com/in/ethanwashispackmba/)
- Sydney Wendfeldt (https://www.linkedin.com/in/sydney-wendfeldt-94155a189/)
- Gannon Wright (https://www.linkedin.com/in/gannonwright/)
Kalaya S., age 16, said the program has been great: “I had lots of fun and got to bond with my mentor. I look forward to getting more help pursuing my passions and getting tips for college and work. I hope to gain more information and to be better prepared for life after high school.” Kalaya’s mentor, Haley Owen, shares this goal: “I hope to have a lasting connection with my mentees and to positively impact their decisions post-graduation.”
Isabel D., age 16, said: “I’m looking forward to being able to get advice from my mentor and [to receive] help, like setting up a resume for myself. I hope to gain a relationship with my mentor as someone who can help me succeed, but also someone I can be good friends with.”
Ernesto C., age 17, hopes to receive help finding the right major and college. Ernesto’s mentor, Wade Carter, believes the mentorship program creates a platform to “counsel youth in our community and to provide them with helpful information to aid in progress towards their educational goals.”
Students were surveyed during the initial set-up of the program and 46% of students said they did not have someone to provide useful advice for post-graduation planning. The M.B.A. mentors meet regularly to provide mentorship to the Springdale High students, many of whom would be the first in their family to go to college. Mejia said, “Having the resources and someone in your life that can encourage you to reach your dreams is not guaranteed for every single person in their youth.” By providing mentorship on a wide array of topics, including resume building, interview tips, applying for colleges and for scholarships and general life advice, the mentors can become an important first contact and resource for first-generation and at-risk students.
“No matter the direction or journey the students decide is best for them, the M.B.A. mentors are encouraged to help motivate them to seek opportunities tailored to them in higher education,” Mejia said.
Chancellor Steinmetz, a first-generation college graduate, shares this sentiment: “We think student success begins before students ever step foot on campus. We are finding new ways to increase engagement, reduce financial need, and keep in closer contact with students who may need support.” Steinmetz encouraged the Springdale students to utilize the mentors as a success resource and to take advantage of the opportunity with a call to action: “Start taking the steps you need to be successful. Take them now.”
During the opening remarks of the kickoff event, Mejia said the Walton MBA Mentorship Program was designed to make a difference: “No matter what circumstances and obstacles you face, I strongly believe that every single one of you need and would want someone to say ‘Hey, I believe in you.’”
When asked what he hopes to gain from the program, Mejia said: “Fourteen M.B.A. students chose to make a difference. They chose to improve our community and they chose to do it in a truly impactful way. Through advice and guidance, we truly believe that we can make a difference in their lives and help them take a step in the right direction towards whatever it is that they want to do after they graduate from high school. Coming from someone who benefits from mentors, the thought that someone cared is always there and has helped guide me to ‘pay it forward’. I hope that the people who benefit from this program are moved to do the same.”
“Each mentor is assigned 2-3 students that they are to invest in, guide and be an overall resource for their mentees. Our hope is to create a pathway for the students – to help students figure out their next steps after high school and to help put those steps in place to help them reach their goal.” – MaryJohn Richmond
Photos provided by David Speer, Manny Mejia, Giang Dang Vu and Alexandra Goforth