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New program pairs honor students, mentors

Honors Mentor Program
Jenny Clifford (right), a member of the Honors Advisory Council and academic dean of Bethlehem Christian Academy, talks with UNG student Ashely Hamby during the first meeting of the Honors Mentor Program.

The Honors Program at the University of North Georgia (UNG), in an inaugural event, brought some of its students together this past weekend with experienced mentors who are pursuing and achieving goals similar to the plans and dreams of their new mentees.

The Honors Mentor Program is led by the Honors Advisory Council, an external group of alumni, parents and community members that advises the dean on planning, seeks resources for the program, and provides internships for honors students. Members of the council often serve as mentors themselves, and the Honors Mentor Program will help students achieve at an even higher level by expanding the number and expertise of sources who can advise students on the challenges they face and provide tips for reaching future goals.

"I am happy to serve as a mentor and to find other mentors for our students," said Jim Mathis, president and CEO of North Georgia Community Foundation and a member of the Honors Advisory Council. "I have had many mentors in my life, and have learned values such as philanthropy, leadership, kindness and persistence from them. For our students to have dedicated mentors at this point in their lives builds their confidence — it lets them know they are heading in the right direction."

The inaugural Honors Mentor Program meeting was held on UNG's Dahlonega Campus. The council will be meeting with Gainesville-based mentors soon to plan further engagement on the university's Gainesville Campus.

"This is a great, permanent addition to our Honors Program," said Dr. Eric Skipper, dean of honors and graduate studies. "This is a chance to give our undergraduates a larger glimpse of what lies ahead in their student and professional careers."

UNG's Honors Program comprises more than 300 students. When the mentor program was announced, about a dozen students requested to be matched with mentors. The Honors Advisory Council examined each student's major, career track and other specific requests, such as international experience, and then began searching for mentors who match the student's criteria.

UNG graduate student Tommy Jackson turned out to be an ideal match for honors student Erin Taylor. Taylor, a junior majoring in biology, plans to enter the field of physical therapy and pursue graduate school. Jackson is currently in his third year of UNG's Doctor of Physical Therapy program, and said he was glad for the chance to mentor a student with similar interests, as he wishes he could have had this experience as an undergraduate.

"There are many things I think this program will help me with, such as learning about the application process for graduate school and things I can be doing now to prepare for my career and continued education," Taylor said. "I also hope to meet more physical therapists and create other networking opportunities with Tommy's help."

Honors Advisory Council member Kelly Lee attended as well to meet with the students. Lee explained the process they went through to match mentors with the students, and stressed that any special requests the students made were given high importance — one student had requested a mentor with military experience who had also spent time in China, and Lee was able to find a retired Army officer living in Dahlonega who had spent most of his deployment in China.

"Our program is growing in numbers and excellence — our incoming freshmen, of which there are 66, have an average high school GPA of 3.97," said Michael DeNoia, president of the Honors Program and a senior majoring in psychology. "It's important that our students have this mentor aspect of the program, as it will enrich their professional and academic development, which will help us accomplish the program's mission: Impact through excellence in leadership, scholarship and service."

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