Find Mentors at Home, School and Work

Several Dillard University students and faculty joined us for a group selfie following Mentorship Forum.
Several Dillard University students and faculty joined us for a group selfie following Mentorship Forum in New Orleans.

My first corporate intern, Necole Merritt, LAGRANT Foundation founder Kim Hunter, Entergy’s Patty Riddlebarger and I discussed mentorship and career advice at Dillard University’s Mentoring Forum this week. LAGRANT scholarship recipient Danielle Miller, a Dillard senior, organized the program attended by nearly 100 students, and she wrote the following guest post.

By Danielle Miller

NEW ORLEANS – Instead of asking someone to be your mentor, let it happen organically by making them want to help you and see you succeed, advised Ron Culp, director of the graduate program for public relations and advertising at DePaul University, during a recent Mentoring Forum at Dillard University.

Culp, who held senior public relations positions at four Fortune 500 corporations before becoming and independent consultant and educator, and Necole Merritt, group vice president of corporate communications at Entergy Corp., addressed about 80 mass communication and business students at the forum Monday, Jan. 25, in recognition of National Mentoring Month. The event was hosted by the Mass Communication program and sponsored by The LAGRANT Foundation and Entergy Corp. The moderators were Patty Riddlebarger, director of corporate social responsibility at Entergy Corp. and Kim L. Hunter, foundation chairman and CEO.

Culp and Merritt offered solid advice on how mentoring relationships work (they’re mutually beneficial); that you can find mentors at home, school and work; and the difference between a mentor and a sponsor.

Merritt called mentorship a two-way street.

“You never know how your mentor relationships…will be helpful to you. But then also on the flip side, you have to give as much as you get,” said Merritt.

Culp, a mentor for Merritt since her college days, recalled meeting Merritt when she received her first internship at Sara Lee Corp. Merritt was supposed to spend the summer in the internship, but she impressed Culp and others so much with her skills and work ethic that they asked her to stay a year.

Culp said, “Necole approached the internship with great enthusiasm; she asked good questions; and she never left the office any evening without stopping by and saying, ‘I’m heading out, unless there is something you need me to do?’”

Merritt’s willingness to do more is what made her stand out from the others, he said.
He said “Even if you’re dying to get out of there, offer, because one time out of 10, they are going to say yes, and that’s where heroes are made, and that’s where careers are made.”

Merritt told students not to “chase names” when looking for a mentor. She said her first mentors were her parents and her journalism school dean.

Her dean, she said, “was very helpful in helping me to think about what it was that I wanted to do, how I was going to get there, coaching me to have internships and helping me navigate crazy professors.”

Merritt compared the mentor-mentee to that of a mother and a child, saying honesty is the best policy.

“If you have a mentor who is always telling you positives and doesn’t give you constructive feedback or correct you in some way, they’re probably not a good person for you…Your parents discipline you because they love you, and that’s the same thing with looking for a mentor,” said Merritt.

Hunter shared an article explaining the difference between mentorship and sponsorship. Researcher Sylvia Ann Newlett (and author of a book on the subject) explained it this way in a New York Times column: “Mentors act as a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on, offering advice as needed and support and guidance as requested; they expect very little in return. Sponsors, in contrast, as much more vested in their proteges, offering guidance and critical feedback because they believe in them.

Here are some tips:

  • Make sure you are a top performer. Whatever you do or say affects our brand.Take risks, and don’t hold back from the projects that will give you visibility.
  • Take networks and their powers seriously; be strategic about it.
  • The first stage can simply be an invitation to coffee.
  • Be clear about what you want to achieve in your career. Do not assume others know. Tell your story, but make it short. (The average attention span has dropped from 12 to 8 seconds, shorter than that of a goldfish.)
  • Relationships are a two-way street. Always think of what you can do to help the sponsor.
  • Differentiate yourselves from others because it is a very competitive world.

Danielle Miller, Dillard Danielle Miller, a mass communication senior at Dillard University, was a 2015 LAGRANT Foundation scholarship recipient. A New Orleans native, she is editor-in-chief of Dillard’s newspaper, the Courtbouillon.

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