TAMIU’s Advising & Mentoring Center (AMC) is a precious gem among the university’s vast resources. It’s an office that has imprinted memories to just about every TAMIU student, including myself. The hard-working student mentors work rigorously, helping freshman and sophomore students acclimate to TAMIU systems, student routines, and campus resources. Though freshman students may enter school with confidence, it is the mentors and their office that opens the door for them.
Tenured mentor Kara Shea shared her thoughts and experiences of the AMC. The 23 year old TAMIU senior has been a mentor for one year, and she is continuing for the fall semester. Shea is a history major with minor in political science. She is expected to graduate this December. Originally with plans to join the Department of State like her father, she has decided instead to venture into a career in education.
Shea was originally born in the Netherlands, though she did not stay there very long, and can’t exactly remember that last time she visited. However, a good portion of her family still resides there. Though that is where she originates, Alexandria, Virginia is where she calls home. She graduated from a boarding school in Virginia, then began her college experience at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction. She has resided in Laredo since 2013, which is also when she transferred to TAMIU.
The subtle grace in her voice exemplifies the heart behind the AMC. With much love and compassion, Shea expresses how much she enjoys her job. Having mentored countless students, she takes her job one student at a time. The individualized experience of mentoring people of unbound potential assures her that no day is a bad one. Inspiring students is a routine activity.
“I love working there. Occasionally I feel down, but just seeing that one student come in excited and eager, it makes your whole day better. Honestly, I never had a legitimate bad day at work. It is inspiring. It’s one of the best jobs to have on campus.”
New mentors will be employed for the new school year, and there are currently around 40 mentors for the nearly 1,300 incoming freshman TAMIU will see this fall. Like Shea, some are returning. The mentor position does require the best and experienced of TAMIU’s students. Aside from being students themselves, mentors are required to have good GPAs, and must at least be a junior. The work load is fast paced, and, like any job, the momentum could become frantic. However, the mentors share a unique camaraderie where the inspiration is not just for their students, but also for their colleagues.
Like all the mentors, Shea has been in all her student’s shoes. At the root of all mentorships is the elderly guidance of experience. Shea expressed how her early semesters had her doing the bad habits she currently advocates against.
“Honestly, sometimes it’s just learning from experience. My worst semester was my first semester in college. I thought it was a joke, and I felt I didn’t have to go to class. I thought my old high school was way harder than this, and I didn’t have to do any of the work there, and it messed me up. I tell my students that sometimes you have to fall before you can get back up and truly succeed. The fact that I know I went from doing really, really bad to doing as well as I am, I can be proud of all I accomplished.”
Like many young students, if not all students, she messed up. She was in the wrong major at first, and procrastinated with arrogance. Undesirable grades from her past affect her. These unfortunate experiences do not represent Shea, but repeating these mistakes are not just her personal avoidance, but one for her mentees as well. Shea discussed how her previous university did not have a mentoring office, and such a critical resources come free to all TAMIU students. Shea understands that through her efforts, she is impacting and influencing young and older students’ futures.
Shea described one of her highlighted experiences as a mentor. She once mentored a student who, even with an amazing personality, was dealing with the difficulties of academic probation. Against some opposing odds, that student eventually passed their classes and got out of probation. The two found each other in public one day. They told Shea how appreciative they were of her help in the tough situation. As a dedicated mentor, Shea both inspired and advised the student to their ultimate success. The two are still solid friends today.
Experiences like that come quite often in the AMC, and Shea finds each one more rewarding than the last. Her job allows her perform 180 degree transformations for students. She has worked with students who start with zero collegiate desires, and express plans to pursue their PhD by the end of that semester.
“The most important thing I could say about mentoring is that it is one the most vital resource you can have here on campus. It is also one of the most extensive ones. We are here to provide students with what they need. We do have our guidelines, but ultimately, we’re here for the students, and we’re here to help them. If they have a question, we’re here to provide the answer. We want them here. We want to see them grow. We want to see them happy. That is the main purpose of us.”
Personally speaking, I owe a lot of gratitude to my mentor who helped me when I was a freshman. Coming off a horrific military deployment, I began a full-time student at 21. I was a few years older than the typical freshman, but my experiences made me mentally older than them by a dozen years. In this time, I found myself in a dark place between a cynical depression and passive aggressiveness. I began abusing alcohol, and I wasn’t the friendliest guy to hang out with. However, in spite of all the negativity, my mentor, even as an old friend of mine, initially saw me as a post-traumatic train wreck, but like how Shea described, I received that 180 degree treatment. Mentor meetings began to be the highlight of my week, and I know I wouldn’t be as successful as I am now had it not been for my mentor that office.
Kara Shea is but one of the many mentors who work to develop and inspire students. The incoming freshmen will become acclimated with their mentors in the coming weeks. The compassionate traditions of the office will continue on to the next generation of students. It may sound sappy, but throughout their four year experience, in conjunction with all the expansive knowledge the university provides, the AMC is where TAMIU gives its love.