Role Reversal: What I Learned from My Mentee

Mentoring Spotlight
A mentoring meeting

What happens when a mentor is the one who gleans life-changing insights?

A mentor’s role in the life of a mentee is to shepherd them through obstacles big and small, ask thought-provoking questions and lend advice along the way.

At the University of Arizona, the Wildcat Mentor Society pairs students with hand-selected Arizona alumni from myriad industries and diverse backgrounds. The duos then meet in monthly one-hour sessions. The mentor-mentee relationship is an impactful dynamic, one that spurs career development and personal growth for the mentee.

But what happens when a mentor is the one who gleans life-changing insights? To find out, we talked to four Arizona mentors.

I Learned to Be Brave

Gain Jue, finance director at Microsoft, has been an Arizona mentor for four years, wanting to give back in a way that supported the student experience. She says her mentees are a constant source of inspiration. “My mentees are fearless in taking on challenges,” Jue says. “This has inspired me to do the same in my career. I’ve watched two of my mentees, Rachel Heusser and Sofia Garcia, learn from their setbacks and showcase the resilience to approach situations in new ways. I channel my inner Rachel and Sofia when I face challenges at work, and I do what they would do: Just go for it.”

I Learned the Value of Enthusiasm

An Arizona mentor for three years, retired educator Debbie Summers is no stranger to helping shape the lives of others. But one student stood out with his infectious enthusiasm. “When I first met Elliot Beck, he was doing classroom observations and preparing for student teaching,” Summers recalls. “He was so enthusiastic; you could see the energy he brought to the classroom. He reminded me of how excited I was to begin the journey of becoming a teacher, and he taught me to see things with humor and awe.”

I Learned That Relationships Matter

President and CEO of Hospital Association of San Diego & Imperial Counties, Dimitrios Alexiou became an Arizona mentor three years ago to guide students onto the right professional track. “I’ve had mentors who’ve helped me over the years, and I view this as an opportunity to pay it forward.” His lightbulb moment? Putting people first. “At times as a mentor, it can be easy to want to focus on how I can help, but it starts with getting to know the person first,” Alexiou explains. “During the pandemic, one of my mentees got COVID and was pretty sick. It put things into perspective. It was a good reminder to start every call with a simple: ‘How are you doing?’”

There’s a reciprocity to every mentor-mentee relationship.

I Learned to Appreciate Fresh Perspectives

Donald Powell, managing partner of Carmichael & Powell, has been practicing law for nearly 50 years. All his mentees during his four years as an Arizona mentor plan to attend law school. Many are international students, and it’s through their eyes that Powell discovered a new appreciation for the American legal system. “During the last national elections, my international mentees impressed me with their knowledge of the issues of the political parties, and with the questions they had regarding the campaigns,” he says. “I was inspired by their gratefulness to be able to attend an American university.”

I Learned the Importance of Priorities

“As the pandemic unfolded, my mentees taught me the value of mental health and showed me what putting yourself first looks like,” says Jue. “I now consciously set aside daily self-care time to ensure I bring my best self to work each day — and I’ve become a better leader for it.”

I Learned the Power of Flexibility

“It’s important to have a goal for your career,” says Alexiou. “But it’s also important to know that plans change. I had a mentee who wanted to be a hospital executive, but she also shared an interest in nursing. I encouraged her to dig into that more — many executives start their careers as clinicians and later transition from clinical care to administration. So, she looked into the nursing program, applied to nursing school and is now working on her nursing degree. Her end goal is the same — to be an executive — but her path looks a little different.”

I Learned to Be Hopeful for the Future

Says Summers: “If you’re considering becoming an Arizona mentor, do it! These young adults demonstrate why the future looks bright with them as leaders. There is no better way to have a positive impact on the future than by building a relationship with these Wildcats.”


Learn more about becoming a mentor or a mentee by visiting the Wildcat Mentor Society.