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Mentoring Program Teaches the Value of Networking

On Tuesday, August 4, 18-year-old Breana Ross, representing the 14 student interns who worked at UMUC for five weeks as part of the Youth@Work/Summer Youth Enrichment Program, stood up in front of approximately 100 people attending a roundtable convened by Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker.

Ross, who will major in broadcast journalism and political science and minor in marketing at the University of Miami this fall, admits that even aspiring broadcasters can get nervous. "I think everyone might get a little jittery," she said. "But I was honored to have been chosen to represent all the interns and to share the wonderful experience that I had."

That experience included having her own office and computer in UMUC's Office of the President in Adelphi. "It really surprised me," she said. Ross assisted the university's Office of Diversity and Equity with their diversity-training program and on everything from identifying future speakers to researching the ways that other colleges and universities ensure that their bathrooms accommodate LGBT students.

And then there was the mentoring.

"The main thing I learned was . . . to nurture the relationships you're building with different mentors. In the future you'll have people to go back to who can help you," she said.

That was exactly what the university had hoped for, said Keith Bryant, assistant vice provost in UMUC's Office of the Registrar.

"Five weeks seems like a short time, but we accomplished a lot," Bryant said of the program, which brought the students—all 18 and 19 years of age—to work, for pay, at UMUC for eight hours a day, five days a week. "For UMUC, that really was a goal for us—to leave them with something that will help them along their way."

UMUC, which participated in the program for the first time, was able to build relationships with the Prince George's County community. "They are our neighbors," Bryant said. "But sometimes you live in a community and you don't know all the neighbors. It was a big win for us."

The five interns who worked in the president's office and the nine who worked in the registrar's office received "pretty significant mentoring" and "insight [into] what the professional world is like," Bryant said.

"When you're 18 or 19, you're at a crossroads before adulthood. For a lot of them, it was shifting their minds to think, 'I have so much opportunity in front of me, and here is someone who is working with me to give me some tools or tips on some things I should be considering,'" he added.

Skills workshops held every Friday focused on interview techniques; résumé writing; and vision casting, or planning for the future. "These are simple things that we don't always consider," Bryant said. "But they are practical skills that we need."

One intern told him, "This is a wonderful experience. I've always wanted an office job, but when you're 16 or 17, only retail or fast-food establishments will hire you. This means so much to me, because I'm actually doing some of the things in this office environment that I've always said that I wanted to."

Bryant is encouraging the interns to stay in touch with UMUC. "From a small seed to a big oak tree," he said. "It just really grew and blossomed in a wonderful way."