Developing a Professional

Alumni support students in transition from college to career

By Arayna Wooley

The University of Alabama’s Mentor UPP Program gives engineering students and alumni access to valuable industry insights and relationships. The program connects students with mentors and aims to provide educational and professional development opportunities.

Liz Moore, the College of Engineering’s assistant director for alumni engagement, is an advisor for the program.

“The relationships built through the mentoring program can open doors and expand opportunities for personal and professional growth,” Moore said. “Many alumni have shared that it’s a truly rewarding experience and they often feel more connected and engaged with the college through participation.”

Mentor UPP has two initiatives within its program. Freshmen and sophomores can enter into the peer mentoring component where they are paired with upperclassmen mentors. Juniors and seniors join the professional partnering component where they are mentored by alumni. The program was officially launched in 2014 by engineering staff —Nancy Holmes and Gayle Howell —with the goal of increasing student retention, involvement and confidence.

“It is our hope that students matriculate through both arms of the program,” Moore said.

Once they are matched, the students and alumni are asked to introduce SMART goals and discussion topics plus establish their own expectations and meeting schedules.

SMART goals are understood to be goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. On the Mentor UPP website there are relevant materials about roles and responsibilities for mentors and mentees to utilize.

Bob Brazeal, who retired in 2016, is a 1977 electrical engineering graduate. He has been a mentor in the program for the last two years and has had five mentees in the time period. He has worked with Moore to help enhance the program.

“I always enjoyed working with the interns and it was one thing that I missed after retiring,” he said. “As soon as I heard about the Mentor UPP program, I saw it as a chance to continue working with young engineering students and recent graduates even in retirement.”

Jason Collins, a senior at UA majoring in mechanical engineering, joined the program in the fall of 2020. He serves as a mentor to underclassmen and is one of Brazeal’s mentees.

“Bob has told me so many stories and shared so many life lessons with me that I write down and will take with me when I begin my career as an engineer. There is an indescribable amount of value in being exposed to Bob’s wisdom and his experience in engineering after spending almost 40 years in the industry.”

Brazeal began his career at Boeing and most recently worked at Walt Disney World Resort. He is a strong advocate for mentorships and has continued to ignite passion in today’s new engineers, Collins said.

Brazeal believes mentorship to be a great learning tool for both parties involved. He aims to teach his mentees things outside of the engineering curriculum by giving anecdotal life lessons and gauging their curiosity.

“Working with the students has forced me to do a lot of thinking and research for the topics we discuss. I graduated from The University of Alabama many years ago so I have learned a lot from my mentees about how different it is to be coming out of college and getting a job for their generation,” Brazeal said.

Collins wants to become a professional mentor during his career to guide students the way Brazeal guided him. His time in the program has transformed his college experience by allowing him to build meaningful connections.

“Ultimately, Mentor UPP has helped me find more than a degree in school; it has helped me decide who I want to become in life, and every day it gives me the chance to pursue that identity,” he said.

Collins is also on Mentor UPP’s student advisory board, which is a group of ambassadors for the program who work to continuously improve the mentor and mentee experience. He has had the chance to learn from his mentors and the advisory board has allowed him to give back and aid younger students in their journey.

“My decisionto get involved with the advisory board starts with the identity that Mentor UPP helped me to find. I want to become someone who elevates others and helps others to reach their maximum potential,” he said.

Mentors and mentees are paired for one academic school year unless they request to stay with each other. Collins has chosen to continue as Brazeal’s mentee through the 2021-2022 school year. They plan to keep in contact with each other after Collins graduates.

Michael Scott, who received his master’s in mechanical engineering in 2012, began as a mentor during the 2020-2021 school year and has enjoyed his role in the program.

“When I was graduating from undergrad and grad school, there were so many questions that only someone that had been working in the industry could answer,” Scott said. “With the Mentor UPP program, you create a personal relationship with the student and it allows them to progressively ask questions from previous conversations that dig deeper into their future career path.”


Luke Vilagi, a current mechanical engineering student at UA, was Scott’s first mentee. He joined the program in May 2020. The chance to gain guidance from someone on a similar path drew him to the program.

“I’ve always loved cars and knew I wanted to go into the automotive industry, but there’s so many paths to choose from within this realm that I just found myself uncertain about which to pursue,” Vilagi said.

In addition to his engineering master’s degree, Scott also has a Masters of Business Administration. He works for Mercedes-Benz and just returned to Tuscaloosa in early 2021 from an expat assignment. He and Vilagi met up in Germany while Scott was working in Stuttgart and Vilagi was beginning his study abroad program in March of 2020.

Since Scott graduated, he said technology and the world around it has grown exponentially. He is not surprised to see engineers continuing to change and adapt to life’s new challenges.

“It’s also been good to see that there are still very eager engineers coming out into the world that want to do something great,” he said. “The experience itself has been very rewarding to me personally. I feel like I have made a positive impact on Luke and hopefully been able to steer his future career path on where he wants to go.”

Vilagi has been delighted with his pairing with Scott and has found him to be a great resource with engineering as well as living abroad.

“This program has given me a much better sense of direction in terms of my future education, career and life goals. I feel much more confident in the path I want to pursue within the automotive industry —research and development —and I’m more excited than ever to dive in headfirst. All of this has boosted my mindset to succeed in and out of the classroom and it has provided much needed motivation during online classes thanks to COVID,” Vilagi said.

He is part of Two Steps Ahead, which is a German student exchange program at UA. Scott was able to show Vilagi around during their time in Germany.

“I came to UA specifically for [the Two-Steps Ahead] program; it offered the chance to learn German, study abroad near the heart of Germany’s automotive industry and complete an internship with an automotive company in Germany,” Vilagi said.

Scott and Vilagi are still in contact and plan to continue their communication.

“It is incredibly rewarding to watch these relationships grow throughout the year. The commitment from our alumni is inspiring,” Moore said.

Collins has found his time in the program to be invaluable and thanks everyone who has been a part of the process. He plans to continue to uplift others and be an asset to the College.

“I have been surprised at what incredible passion the people who are involved with Mentor UPP have. Liz Moore and Gayle Howell, along with the rest of the leadership, do a fantastic job trying to improve the program and ensuring the student experience is excellent,” Collins said.

Vilagi applied to Mentor UPP without many expectations. He was surprised to find a lifelong connection in his field of interest and an entryway into his intended career path.

“The folks at Mentor UPP went above and beyond to pair me with the absolute perfect mentor for my situation and ambitions. I’m incredibly thankful for their efforts and would recommend this program to anyone who’s even considering it in the slightest,” Vilagi said. “We students have so much to learn from the alumni that were once in the same positions as we’re in now.”

In 1837, The University of Alabama became one of the first five universities in the nation to offer engineering classes. Today, UA’s College of Engineering has more than 5,200 students and more than 170 faculty. In recent years, students in the College have been named USA Today All-USA College Academic Team members, Goldwater, Hollings, Portz, Boren, Mitchell and Truman scholars.

Author: Arayna Wooley    /    Posted on: November 25, 2021    /    Posted in:   Alumni, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Featured, Giving, Mechanical Engineering