The Value of Mentors

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

by Laura Gerlach (BSBA ’20), Kenan Scholar

“What am I going to do with my future?” This is one of the biggest questions I ask myself – and scramble to answer when others ask me. And I’m probably not alone. I think many college students, at least at some point during their academic careers, pause and ponder if the direction they are taking is the right one.

The intimidating aspect of this issue often lies in the fact that, although we can all achieve great success and maximize our potential, there are so many different avenues through which we can accomplish this. It can be hard to decide.

So we look to others for advice. The best source for this advice comes from those who have been in our shoes before. Therein lies the value of a network such as the Kenan Scholars Board of Mentors.

This unique group of individuals represents varying industries, experience levels and backgrounds. Each mentor brings valuable information to the discussion when they share their knowledge with us.

One of the most important lessons I took away from each of the Board of Mentors panel discussions, especially the most recent session in April, is the idea that taking risks is critical. It’s easy for me and others just starting out to imagine that our first job is the necessary stepping stone to whatever we wish to eventually achieve in our careers. However, in talking with the Kenan Scholars mentors, I’ve come to realize that it is possible to pivot. Based on the mentors’ comments, I now recognize how important the learning process is – no matter what I end up deciding to do.

For some mentors, such as Barrett Biringer, changing companies to discover the best fit was crucial to his career success. Biringer said he learned that working with a smaller firm, Plexus Capital, was a better fit for him than other, larger companies he had worked for. On the other hand, mentor Dan Sullivan emphasized the value of the many diverse experiences he has had through his career with pharmaceutical powerhouse GSK.

During the April Board of Mentors panel, I encouraged my fellow Kenan Scholars to ask more questions. This led to a more dynamic discussion and more fruitful and reflective responses, with both scholars and mentors building on one another’s comments.

Mentors Susan Carter and Jennifer Conrad both showcased the importance of cross-sector knowledge. Conrad works in academia, but has extensive knowledge of the finance industry. Carter has worked for both the State of North Carolina and private companies, and explained how those have two intertwined in her career.

The Kenan Scholars Board of Mentors program has been an invaluable resource for me to engage with professionals in both the public and private sectors. Through individual and panel discussions, my peers and I have learned lessons that normally would take years of experience to learn. I am incredibly grateful for the Kenan Scholars mentors and the time they have invested in us, as well as all the resources the Kenan Scholars program provides.