Curated by Amy Hammer

In an industry centered on counseling, it is expected that mentorships for rising professionals develop as well. Our contributors give insight into the relationships they developed with mentors that ultimately impacted their growth as a professional.

“When I first moved into my house, there was a problem in the neighborhood with this peeping Tom. So one night when he popped up in my window, I grabbed an old Frankenstein mask from the closet and put it on and scared him right back. I never saw him again.” –Carolyn Johnston

When someone asks me who my mentor was in college, I can always tell them about lots of important people who helped me, but the one that has always stood out, for so many reasons, is Carolyn Johnston. She is a faculty member at Eckerd College and teaches in American Studies. When I received this essay prompt, I felt like a student facing the Common App, I wasn’t sure exactly what to put or why. But there are several reasons Carolyn is the most important mentor I’ve had.

Carolyn is the type of professor loved by all of her students. She’s passionate, interesting, and just an all around great spirit. Yet, she’s never been constrained by academia. I always thought there was something wrong with me being interested in so many different things. Was I unfocused? Carolyn allows herself to grow and explore. She’s written about Cherokee women in Oklahoma after removal, Buffalo Soldiers in World War II, Jack London as American radical, and feminism and the family in America. She’s the renaissance woman and is willing to travel wherever her interests (and her students’ interests) may roam. I learned from her not to be ashamed of being interested in learning about many things, I don’t have to settle on just one.

One of the things I’ve always loved about Carolyn is her sense of self. She embodies everything it means to love yourself and to stand up for others. Her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, her engagement with women’s issues, and her deep commitment to her roots are inspiring. But she also symbolizes to me a great deal of hope. She grew up not far from me in semi-rural Tennessee and yet made her way all the way to Berkeley for a PhD then to Florida to work at Eckerd. Carolyn gave me the confidence to embrace and love myself and encouraged my spirit to explore.

When you get right down to it, Carolyn was always my champion and I want to be as good at that as she is. She was on my thesis committee and attended my son’s bris. She will always be a lifelong friend and mentor.  When I told her I was feeling torn about accepting my position at USF and leaving Eckerd, she shook her head and told “honey, it’s just like Vaudeville, you leave when they’re clapping.”

After my first few years in admission, I found myself at the career crossroads that every newbie admission counselor finds themselves at, asking myself the question, “Should I stay or should I go?”  I was discovering a passion for higher education and an excitement for college admission that was not always reflected by my fellow road warriors during travel season.  When I met other experienced admission counselors that were heavily involved in SACAC, I began feeling as if I had found my people, people who saw admission as a career path and calling, not just a temporary job.  Those friendships provided me with several mentors from whom I was eager to learn as much as possible.  This experience also showed me how it is possible to have a variety of mentors from whom you can learn from at the same time.  I sought to replicate this experience as I moved out west for my position with Miami University.

It is for this reason that it is hard for me to single out a particular ‘greatest mentor’ because I’ve had the opportunity to grow and learn within an incredible community of leaders and colleagues since I’ve moved to San Diego.  The Regional Admission Counselors of California have played a pivotal role in this community, affording me the opportunity to learn from admission professional from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences.  Ed and Terri Devine have also played a huge role in this mentor community of mine.  I’ll tell you this, if you have never had the opportunity to talk about life, work, and having fun with Devines, you’re doing something wrong.  Do yourself a favor and introduce yourself to them and start getting to know two of the best humans in college admission.  Finally, I can’t forget to mention the senior leadership of the Miami University Office of Admission, who round out my mentor community.  When it could be easy for them to forget about the regional staff member three time zones away, the leadership team in my office has continually invested in me and modeled how to be a great supervisor and leader.

Joel Ontiveros (1)JOEL ONTIVEROS – UCLA
I have been very lucky in the relationships and mentors I have found along the way during my first 25 years of life. From former supervisors to peer mentors, I truly believe the people I have surrounded myself with have made me the young professional I am today. However, one mentor will always stand out against the rest, as he was the first to motivate me into action and change the way I view the world.

We call him Chase (he hates being called Mr. Chase), and he is the acting advisor for my old middle school’s Associated Student Body. I’ve known Chase since I was in 6th grade, and there isn’t a leadership institute or job interview to this day where I don’t think about some of the things I learned from him. Chase was the kind of middle school teacher that would motivate and inspire each and every student he interacted with. Whether you were in his history class or a member of the ASB, Chase made his students feel appreciated as well as treated them with respect. He was comical, engaging, supportive, and inclusive. Since Chase was so “real” with his students, there will always be one interaction with him that has resonated with me throughout my life.

In sixth grade, I knew I was going to be the next Michael Jordan. I was on the middle school basketball team and practiced everyday at home until the sun went down (the only requirements needed to become the next MJ at such a young age). During basketball season, Chase had encouraged me to sign up for a leadership camp over a certain weekend. Since most of our games occurred on weekdays, I signed up for the camp. Little did I know, a couple days later, our basketball team was scheduled for a last minute basketball tournament in the area. Of course, I had a small “what would MJ do” moment and decided I would have to attend the basketball tournament.

I went to inform Chase that I could no longer attend the leadership camp. Chase politely heard me out, but then ultimately did what Chase does best. He treated me like a young adult. He stated that the decision was mine, but he also told me to consider the impact I had on others. I had been given a responsibility in representing our ASB at the leadership camp, and that he was ultimately disappointed in me for not following through with my word.

Looking back it can seem like this small experience was just a middle school kid not being very reliable. But in that moment, Chase had given me a crash course on accountability, how my actions can impact others, and what it means to be selfless instead of selfish.

Needless to say, I did not become the next Michael Jordan. However, that small lesson from Chase impacted me for years to come and even to this day. I have had plenty of fantastic mentors that have reinforced and taught me values necessary to live a healthy and wholesome life. However, there is always a day or two every month that I ask myself, “What would Chase do?”