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As the AAAC Mentoring Circle prepares for record participation in its eighth year, returning mentors share what makes the program special and what motivates their service.

By Brelyn Powell 

VCU’s African American Alumni Council has been connecting current Black VCU students with alumni mentors since the launch of its Mentoring Circle program in 2015. Over the course of a year, mentor-mentee pairs work together to identify opportunities for personal, academic and professional growth, and to develop the skills necessary for the mentee to achieve their goals.

The 2022-23 cohort of the AAAC Mentoring Circle, which begins in April, is expected to be the largest in the program’s history. Nearly 200 students are paired with alumni mentors in the current cohort, with even more expected to sign up in the coming weeks to participate in the 2022-23 cohort. With record participation comes the need for more alumni volunteers than ever.

Seasoned alumni mentors often return for repeat service, certain that the program leaves as much of a mark on them as it does their mentees.

“The mentees get excited about the things we work through together because they know they’re gaining knowledge and skills they can put to use to move forward toward their careers,” says Jazmine Povlick (M.S.’19/H&S), who will serve her third consecutive year as a mentor this year for the 2022 cohort.

“It’s awesome to watch them gain the confidence to be like, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’ Then, when they get an internship or job that you helped them prepare for, it’s the best feeling to see them succeed using skills they developed with your support.”

A forensic science alumna, Povlick works for the Virginia Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, the state’s public health laboratory, conducting testing for drugs of abuse. During her first year as a mentor, she helped her mentee refine her broad interest in chemistry to focus on research. She was able to put her mentee in touch with a former mentor of her own, which resulted in the mentee’s first experience in lab research. 

“I loved having the chance to facilitate a connection like that,” she says. 

The Mentoring Circle has always provided opportunities to operate virtually. AAAC President-elect Daniel Brisker (B.S.’09/H&S) says virtual mentoring has increased the accessibility and convenience of this volunteer opportunity.

“From careers to family to just everyday life during a pandemic, everyone has so much on their plate,” he says. “As great as it is to be together in person, you don’t have to be face to face with someone to make a difference in their life. As long as you’re just a phone call, email, Zoom meeting or text message away, you can be a mentor.”

Brisker, also a multiyear Mentoring Circle volunteer, has witnessed the power of mentorship in his own career. After graduating from the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences in 2009, he attended the University of Maryland Global Campus to earn his master’s degree in biotechnology.

“I joined a mentorship program there and was paired with a mentor who became someone I went to not only for academic and professional advice, but to talk to about anything,” says Brisker, who now serves as a  consumer safety officer for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “It’s about more than just helping someone with their resume or with their time-management skills. It’s about being someone your mentee feels comfortable with and can look up to.” 

Building that level of comfort between mentors and mentees is the heart of the Mentoring Circle, which is a cornerstone of the AAAC’s work to instill pride among alumni and support the recruitment, retention and success of Black students at the university.

“When students can connect with alumni who look like them, they have the chance to get to know someone who has a similar background or has overcome similar challenges in order to succeed,” Brisker says. “The Mentoring Circle grows every year, so we know it’s working. This program — and this organization — changes lives.”

Learn more about the Mentoring Circle and volunteer at VCU Link for the cohort starting in April.

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