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Mentor MILE initiative creating valuable relationships between students and industry

Since its inception in 2018, the MILE Program has sought to provide students with a variety of high-impact learning experiences through industry engagement. With the start of the program’s third cohort in 2022, the MILE Program began a mentoring initiative to provide yet another networking opportunity for its student members by engaging them with industry professionals. “Mentor MILE” pairs each of the cohort’s 14 students with a local industry leader who will mentor them for the entirety of the program. This new initiative provides MILE members the opportunity to grow and learn from industry professionals who can provide guidance as the students grow and make career decisions.

Kayla Robinson, COO at AgTexas Farm Credit Services, serves as a mentor for the new initiative. Robinson’s relationship with MILE began in 2020 when AgTexas became a supporter of the program, and she also serves on the MILE advisory committee. Robinson was paired with junior animal science major, Bella Yoder. Robinson said she has developed a personal relationship with Yoder and hopes it continues to grow as they work together.

“When Bella looks back on her time with me, I want her to see growth,” Robinson said. “I want her to feel that I have had a lasting impact on her.”

Their mentoring relationship is special because Robinson said she and Bella have a lot in common. It is Robinson’s belief and dedication to Yoder that has allowed their relationship to blossom. Yoder said she not only sees Robinson as a mentor but also a close friend.

“Kayla Robinson, my mentor and a huge supporter of this program, has encouraged me in my academic, career and personal life,” Yoder said. “Her ability to walk alongside me and share her wisdom has impacted me in more ways than she will ever know.”

Robinson is giving Yoder more than career advice; she is creating a connection on which Bella can rely and trust. Whatever steps Yoder takes next, Robinson has made it clear that she wants to be a part.  

Another mentorship pair, Mikella Newsom and Kloe Walker, have had positive experiences as well. Newsom, the chief risk officer at City Bank, said her goal for the mentorship is to give Walker a professional resource outside of Texas Tech.

“I think it is good for her to see a strong female in a position and understand the challenges of being a professional in a job,” Newsom explained. “I want to be there to give advice if needed and be a sounding board as someone outside of her normal day-to-day circle she can trust.”

The mentorship initiative is Newsom’s first exposure to the MILE Program, but she is excited about the opportunity to be a part of MILE and help it grow.

For Walker, a sophomore studying agricultural communications, Newsom has become a valuable part of her growth in MILE.

“This opportunity has allowed me to connect with someone who is kind, supportive, and an amazing role model,” Walker said. “I have so much admiration for Mikella.”

Over the past few months, they have grown close and developed the kind of relationship Newsom intended from the onset of the mentorship. Together, they have challenged and helped each other grow. Newsom said the MILE initiative has challenged her to ask the right questions and be a good mentor. Walker said Newsom has become a constant in her life and given her life advice she will always carry.

“Mentor MILE” is also seeking to strengthen the pipeline between Davis College students and the workforce. The mentors and their businesses are investing in the program through mentorships to hopefully create connections students will want to come back to when they enter their careers.

David Gibson, executive director at Texas Corn Producers, is mentoring senior agricultural communications major Breely Huguley. He said the main reason he and Texas Corn Producers are giving time and money to the program is because they are investing in the future leaders of agriculture.

“The board and I are interested in providing training and experiences to potential agricultural leaders that may come back and be farmers or be involved in the industry through politics, communications or education,” Gibson said.

Newsom said the mentorship has benefitted her by plugging her back into Texas Tech and with its students. Her experiences in college were so different from what students go through now. The mentoring opportunity has allowed her to see first-hand and understand the struggles and challenges students face.

“I think getting to reconnect with students, being a part of the college in a different way, and working with a student and hearing different things is neat,” Newsom said.

Robinson said she believes the Mentor MILE initiative is unique because it pairs a student with an industry person whom they normally would not have met. This develops relationships that lead back to businesses and companies based in agriculture that students will want to work for when they graduate.

“It is important for the agriculture community to thrive and for that to be possible, we need to be showing students how to do it,” Robinson said. “They are the future of agriculture and will be responsible for leading the industry where it needs to go.”

The Mentor MILE initiative has taken off and provided many benefits to MILE Program and its participants. Whether the mentors are including their students in the workplace or connecting with them to share wisdom and support, each student is gaining a strong ally in the industry. Yoder and Walker said the relationships they have built with their mentors will last a lifetime. The mentors have also seen benefits that have encouraged them to continue to be a part of the initiative. Both Robinson and Newsom said they would be a mentor in the program again.

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