When it comes to life experience, Syndric Steptoe ’13 boasts more than most. His University of Arizona football career vaulted him into the NFL and four seasons with the Cleveland Browns. He later bought a restaurant franchise, earned a master’s degree, and eventually returned to UA Athletics, where he helped student-athletes navigate career and professional-development choices.
Today, Steptoe is director of Alumni Career and Professional Development for the UA Alumni Association.
All of which makes him perfect to spearhead the Association’s new Wildcat Mentor Society. In its first year, the program has already enlisted 25 alumni mentors, drawn from the upper echelons of business, law and entertainment companies like Discovery and Paramount. Tapping into their life experiences, these high-achievers will advise 100 students — divided into four-person “cohorts” — on everything from career choices to personal issues.
Few know better than Steptoe just how important a mentor relationship can be. Growing up in Bryan, Texas, he experienced what he calls “some difficult times.” But fate intervened when Texas A&M University dispatched college students to surrounding schools, where they advised at-risk kids like Steptoe. The mentoring was supposed to last a few weeks; his mentor, Jason Sloan, turned into a lifelong friend.
“Jason helped me make major decisions in life, like where I should go and play football,” Steptoe says. “When I was going into the NFL
and it was time to choose my agent, he was right there with me. I’m a big advocate for this program because I know how important it is to have a mentor.”
That’s a lesson Angel Gonzalez also knows firsthand. The business junior hails from the small town of Williams, Arizona, and previously studied at Northern Arizona University, where he learned the value of having a mentor. So when he transferred to the UA, he linked up with Steptoe. The two have worked together since.
“When I first started as a business major, I was hoping to do something with sports,” Gonzalez says. “I wanted to get advice from someone who had been through the business and was a young adult.”
That collaboration reaped great dividends. For instance, Gonzalez was considering a sports agent career. But Steptoe helped broaden his perspective and consider options such as marketing sports events.
Gonzalez also struggled with math, “and Syndric gave me advice on how to restructure
my time, spend more time practicing my math skills, and go to tutoring,” he says. “It was the extra push I needed. He has offered me advice and wisdom that he gained over the years and been really supportive.”
That’s just an example of where mentors can play a key role, says Steptoe. “Although students think they’re great at time management, it’s really the biggest thing they struggle with. When they actually break it down and see how much time they’re wasting in the day, they can begin to comprehend, ‘Well, I could be using this extra time to study.’”
Gonzalez will join a Wildcat Mentor Society cohort this fall to learn more about digital marketing.
From chasing life goals to simply helping students save time, Wildcat mentors are poised to help. “That’s why I’m so in love with this program and want to see it be successful,” Steptoe says. “I wouldn’t be here right now if I hadn’t had a mentor when I was growing up.”