Sam Sands ’22: Three ways to get the most out of your mentoring relationship as a scholar

Blog | August 18, 2022
Sam Sands ’22

Dear newest mentees,

Welcome to the Morehead-Cain Mentoring Program! As you begin your mentoring relationships, I wanted to share three lessons I’ve learned from my mentors, Jason Kemp ’03 and Steve Toben ’78, that have helped me make the most out of my two years as a mentee.

To build a strong relationship with your mentor, you’ve got to really buy into the program.

Though buying into the program might sound simple, this tip took some time for me to appreciate. Just because we were both Morehead-Cains didn’t mean that we were a perfect match. A relationship needed to be built first, and as daunting as this task seemed, the Foundation’s monthly reminders and topics were a great place to start.

There’s a reason the Foundation has structured the program the way they have. Even the post-meeting forms, though they might have seemed tedious at the time, were a great way to reflect on our conversations. I believe that buying into the program gave me the chance at successful relationships.

Be open and willing to let the conversation go to places you might not have expected.

I know I just essentially asked you to follow the “rules” to a T, but I also learned it’s okay, and sometimes better, to do just the opposite. Some of my best conversations with my mentors seemed like random tangents at first. What were supposed to be relationships with my mentors grounded in renewables and non-profits became 6 a.m. workouts in Raleigh and a Global Perspective trip to live in a Buddhist monastery in Kathmandu this summer. Although the monthly topics were a great start, once we had a steady base, deviating from the set script allowed us to find connections that we didn’t know were there, which brings me to my next point.

Find a connection; trust me, there’s one there if you’re looking hard enough

A comment I’ve often heard about the program from scholars is that they don’t have enough in common with their mentor. Though this might occasionally be true, I’m willing to bet that there is at least one strong connection between each mentor and mentee. This might just be the Buddhist monastery talking, but I believe everything is connected. Yes, I worried when my interests didn’t exactly align with my mentors’ or suddenly switched mid-semester. But there was always some connection there, finding it just depended on the effort I put in and my intention to seek out and perceive our commonalities.

I hope these tips can help you take your relationships to the next level. This program, including my mentors and the amazing staff involved, impacted my UNC–Chapel Hill experience as much as any Summer Enrichment Program summer or Lovelace Fund for Discovery. Personally, I can’t wait to join the ranks of mentors at some point in the future.

—Sam Sands ’22

Connect with a mentor

The Morehead-Cain Mentoring Program is designed to leverage the power of the Morehead-Cain network by cultivating connections between scholars and alumni, and providing structure and support to these relationships so they can develop based on shared values and interests. All rising juniors and seniors are eligible to participate.