Our HSAA Mentorship Program pairs future leaders with industry professionals for year-long one-on-ones

by Barbara Wiedemann

UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media has a well-earned reputation for offering a powerful alumni network to its media and journalism graduates. One of the reasons: our active alumni boards.

Hussman School Alumni Association (HSAA) member John Hashimoto ’82 initiated a conversation five years ago about developing a year-long, board-supported mentorship program to support the educational and professional growth of UNC Hussman students. Participating alumni would make a commitment to playing a key role in the development of Carolina’s next generation of journalism and media leaders.

Hashimoto’s research and the work of other dedicated HSAA members and school staff brought a fledgling program to fruition in 2017, pairing 10 students with alumni mentors from around the nation working in their fields of interest.

The HSAA Mentorship Program, now overseen by Director of Alumni Affairs and Donor Relations Robin Jackson and Assistant Director of Career Services Jenn Sipe, has grown exponentially since then, celebrating a record 103 pairings (18 of them residential master’s candidates) in academic year 2020–21.

“We work hard to make very intentional pairings,” said Sipe of the behind-the-scenes work she and Jackson do to find just the right mentor for each interested undergraduate or residential M.A. student. “Some are more challenging than others,” she said with a laugh, “but we even found an alumnus at ‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’ willing to mentor a master’s degree candidate with an interest in comedy.”

The school’s Career Services team has long offered a robust “Meet the Pros” program which gives students an opportunity to drop in and meet a myriad of professionals. The mentorship program kicks it up a notch, giving students the chance to build a one-on-one relationship over an academic year with someone working in their area of interest.

Some even ask to be paired again for a second year, like mentor Jasmine Neely ’16 — NASCAR’s manager of team, driver and industry communications — and rising senior Alexis Harper ’22.

Sipe and Jackson report that, although it’s not the intention of the program per se, some mentors have been known to help place mentees in internships at their organizations; or even make a connection with one of their peers that helps land their mentee a starting job.

This year’s mentorship program is already underway, with a kickoff event coming shortly and the first mentee/mentor meeting scheduled for late September. Additional meetings (virtual or in-person) take place in early November; and in early February and late March of 2022. Pairs reconvene at the end of our spring semester to review goals and evaluate the program.

If you are interested in becoming a mentor, please reach out to Robin Jackson ASAP at rhj@email.unc.edu. Students interested in the spring application for 2022–23 mentoring, please contact Jenn Sipe at jean.sipe@unc.edu.

Here’s what a few of our mentorship program pairs had to say about the experience.

Danita Morgan ’81 (associate dean for development and alumni affairs, UNC Hussman)
Lauren Westbrook ’21 (Advertising/Public Relations)

Mentor/mentee pairing Danita Morgan/Lauren Westbrook












“Working with Lauren was a joy! I felt so connected to our School and enjoyed talking with her about the right resumé for each application, networking and work life after Carolina (and Zoom made scheduling super easy).”—Danita

“Her counsel and feedback are outstanding—I'll always remember what Danita has taught me.”—Lauren


Sharon Hamilton ’82 (senior director, corporate and foundation relations at East Carolina University)
Sara Raja ’23 (Journalism)

Mentor/mentee pairing Sharon Hamilton/Sara Raja












“It’s been more than 30 years since I’ve been at Carolina, but resumé skills and the importance of networking remain the same.”—Sharon

“She has shared many interesting anecdotes about her experiences from varied aspects of the communications field that will be helpful as I decide in which direction to go.”—Sara


Stephen Stock ’83 (senior investigative reporter at NBC Universal Comcast, San Francisco)
Sarah Gray Barr ’22 (Journalism)

Mentor/mentee pairing Stephen Stock/Sarah Gray Barr












“This affords all students I work with a balance to the views of their professors who might not be as connected with how things work in this industry.”—Stephen

“He has taught me a lot about working in the newsroom and making oneself stand out. He encouraged me to apply for a job at my local news station where I am now learning to produce news shows on my own and getting real world experience.”—Sarah Gray


Claudia Howard ’03 (senior account executive at Google)
Amari Pollard ’21 (M.A., strategic communication)

Mentor/mentee pairing Claudia Howard/Amari Pollard












“As a mentor working with Amari has been wonderful. It has kept me grounded and exposed me to the realities of job-hunting and starting your career in todays’ world. Understanding these challenges and the approach of students now, makes me more cognizant of those who may be coming into our organization and the way they view the beginning of their careers.”—Claudia

“Her ability to embrace the nonlinear career path and hone in on who she is as a storyteller, no matter what industry, has been a major help.”—Amari


Alexa Taylor ’13 (owner/creative director at Foothold Creative)
Keyshawn Garrett  ’22 (Journalism)

Mentor/mentee pairing Alexa Taylor/Keyshawn Garrett












“It’s important to me that I contribute and give back to the [school] because there were a number of ways the school contributed to my academic growth and my career development during my time as a student.”—Alexa

"You can’t look left and right at the same time, but with her it feels like I can because she is like my second pair of eyes.”—Keyshawn


Robby Marshall ’07 (director of global brand marketing at Nike)
Isabel Hewgley ’21 (Advertising)

Mentor/mentee pairing Robbie Marshall/Isabel Hewgley












“We’ve touched on topics that I rarely have time explore in class but were so important as I neared graduation. Things like leadership style, how to manage teams, personal branding and how to create authentic application documents.”—Isabel

“We learn from each other throughout. Isabel takes me into the life of a current student and aspiring professional, while I do my best to take her into different scenarios of her own future.”—Robby