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.”