Give it to me straight

Mentorship program helps students grow personally and professionally

by Dottie Barnes
photos by Amanda Pitts

Some of the most life-changing advice can come from people who are straightforward, trusted and dedicated to bringing others to a higher place.    

Those attributes can be used to describe local professionals who are working alongside Grand Valley students as mentors through the Seidman College of Business Professional Mentorship Program.

The program pairs mentors with students for an academic year to help the students grow personally and professionally.

two men seated, talking

Jalen Gipson, left, discusses economics and finance with his mentor, Rick Chapla, at the L. William Seidman Center in downtown Grand Rapids.

 Jalen Gipson is a junior majoring in both business economics and finance. He said he jumped at the opportunity to be part of the program and learn from a mentor.

"I'm always looking for ways to grow and further my personal development and expand my network," said Gipson. "I have already learned a lot about the importance of relationships, time management and how meetings on your calendar should make you think differently about that day."

Laura Worline is a first-year student who has developed a strong connection with her mentor. "We are both laid-back. I don't have to worry about impressing her," said Worline. "She has given me routes and options to take when I share a problem and has offered great counsel, like, be yourself in every situation."

Matching Mentors

The mentorship program started about five years ago in the management department and has expanded to include the finance and economics departments. Mentors come from a wide variety of industries such as manufacturing, supply chain, human resources, banking, finance and international business.

"Our mentors provide students with specialized industry knowledge that will help them transition to the workforce," said Yalonda Ross-Davis, professional development manager for Seidman Student Academic Services, who runs the program. "These mentors serve as a confidant, a trusted guide for students."

Ross-Davis said great care goes into matching mentors with students. She said sometimes a healthy mentorship relationship isn't industry specific, adding the process runs deeper than simply matching a student's major with a mentor's current profession.

"We also look at the skills a student may need to develop: hard skills, like setting priorities, interviewing skills and goal setting, and soft skills, like leadership development, networking and emotional intelligence," she said.

"I have already learned a lot about the importance of relationships, time management and how meetings on your calendar should make you think differently about that day." — Jalen Gipson

 Parents and professors play an important role in preparing students for college and for their major, said Ross-Davis, and mentors help take them to the next level.

"Often, students don't understand the process of going from being a student to being a professional," she said. "Mentors offer a deeper understanding of what is necessary to make that transition."

She said critical feedback and "straight conversations" with mentors, who range from managers to directors to CEOs, are well-received by students.

"Students can feel safe to ask anything; there is no such thing as a dumb question," Ross-Davis said. "Mentors have that industry expertise, but at the same time can offer wisdom about all types of issues because their advice comes from a place of love." 

Rick and Jalen

Gipson's mentor is Rick Chapla, vice president of strategic initiatives for The Right Place, a nonprofit economic development organization in Grand Rapids.

The two have been meeting twice a month since September, spending about an hour each time talking about business, school and life.

"I'm just trying to be a sponge right now," said Gipson. "I want to absorb anything and everything that helps me learn about myself and career choices."

Gipson takes careful notes at each meeting and reviews them to remember key points, like this favorite piece of advice from Chapla: "Be mindful of how I react to events in my life, because that shapes whatever outcomes I may have to deal with."

Gipson said he and Chapla talk about economic development, news headlines and general advice on how to grow personally.

two men, seated and talking

Jalen's Notes

• Be mindful of how I react to events in my life, because that shapes whatever outcomes I may have to deal with.

• Job No. 1 is to always manage myself.

• How you react to situations shows your values.

• Never stop learning.

"This is a great opportunity to learn from someone who has been where I aim to be, and has done things that I want to do," said Gipson. "We can have conversations about things I have read, conversations that people my age don't typically have."

Chapla said Gipson has already developed skills that go way beyond a classroom.

"Jalen is a good decision maker and has self-confidence. I want to propel that," said Chapla. "Mentoring is about shaping a little more of who he is and building on the positive attributes that he already possesses."

Chapla described mentoring as a two-way exchange and said Gipson has given him insight about young talent.

"This relationship advances my own intellectual curiosity and there’s no better way to be challenged intellectually than by active students," he said. "Even people who touch your life in a small way can have lasting value on your life." 

Anna and Laura

Anna Trenshaw graduated from Grand Valley in 2016 with a degree in supply chain management and marketing. She was part of the mentorship program as a student and decided to participate as a mentor after she landed a job as a product data analyst in Grand Rapids.

Trenshaw said her mentor wasn't afraid to "tell her like it is."

two women talking, seated at table

First-year student Laura Worline, right, meets with her mentor, Anna Trenshaw, at the Pew Grand Rapids Campus.

"I realize more and more how much I learned from my mentor," said Trenshaw. "We talked a lot about the communication chain, how to get things done and how to problem-solve. He shared experiences from his job and how he made the transition from college to the professional workforce." 

Trenshaw said she wanted to stay connected to Grand Valley and give back to the university. Helping a student have the same positive experience was one way to do that. That student is Worline.

The two meet for coffee twice a month and have already clicked on several levels.

"We started out talking about how to bolster my resume," said Worline, a native of Kalamazoo, "but that quickly turned into talking about my aspirations and goals. I'm not from the area and Anna said she has connections here that can help me." 

Worline described herself as an over-planner, initially bringing to their meetings a checklist of things to talk about. She said Trenshaw's easy personality and positive attitude helped make subsequent meetings more free-flowing.

Mentorship notes


• Be who you are in every situation.
• Stay driven, don't stand still in what you're doing.
• Incorporate your strengths and attributes into your work environment.


• If you want something, you have to ask for it; it's not just handed to you.
• Good communication is key in problem-solving. 

"We found out we both have an interest in women's health issues and women in the workplace ideas. It's been cool to bounce my ideas and perspective off someone else who understands," she said.

Worline said she looks forward to their meetings, knowing she has someone who will help her find solutions and who is automatically in her corner. She said her pairing with Trenshaw was a great match.

"I'd like to think if we met in a different time and place, outside of Grand Valley, we would still connect the way we do and be friends," she said. 

Trenshaw said the best part of the mentorship program is having the ability to shape it.

"My mentorship with my mentor was a little bit different than my mentorship with Laura, which is good. What I needed is different from what Laura needs," she said. "You can make the experience what you want it to be and that's why it's been successful and life-changing."

For more information about the Seidman College of Business Professional Mentorship Program, visit

Page last modified February 28, 2018