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Program Mentors Guide Students Toward Academic Success

Shannon DeBruhl shares thoughts and insights on her role as a Senior Program Mentor.

Mar 15, 2023

When asked what makes Western Governors University different from other online schools, our staff often mention two things: competency-based education and WGU Program Mentors. WGU assigns each student a Program Mentor from their field of study who will work with them from day one through to graduation. Come to think of it, most brick-and-mortar universities don’t even offer that.

To explain the role of WGU Program Mentors and the difference they make in the lives of their students, we recently chatted with Shannon DeBruhl, MSN, RN.

What is your current title and how long have you been in that position?

I am a Senior Program Mentor for The Leavitt School of Health and have been in this position for seven years. I mentor graduate students throughout their journey to obtain their MSN in either Nursing Education or Nursing Leadership and Management.

Where do you live in North Carolina?

I live in Zebulon. Born and raised in Raleigh but moved a short distance east a couple of years ago.

What is the purpose of Program Mentors at WGU?

WGU Program Mentors serve as “guides on the side” and resource experts. We communicate weekly or biweekly with our students to ensure they have everything they need to be successful and meet their goals. Our responsibilities include term planning of course start and end dates, along with connecting students to various instructional resources.

Why is it important for an online university to have Program Mentors?

Program Mentors help students navigate online learning and focus on pacing toward completing their degree goals. Completing an educational pathway online can be lonely at times and students often feel lost because you simply can’t go to your instructor’s classroom or advisor’s office to ask questions face to face. Having a person who serves as a mentor, in an online capacity, enhances the overall student experience by providing an expert navigator on the sidelines. The relationships built between WGU Program Mentors and students forge a pathway to a satisfying degree completion.

What are some typical interactions you have with your students?

Routine interactions with student mostly include the weekly or biweekly calls; emails and texting are an option, too. The calls last less than 10 minutes most of the time and we review progress, celebrate course completions, discuss any obstacles, and plan for new goals, pacing, etc.

What are some instances where you helped a student above and beyond those routine interactions?

Program mentors are not “on call” 24/7, but sometimes there are situations that may warrant early morning, late night, or even weekend attention. I will joyfully log on to assist students, even if I am out of the office.

Who are some mentors who have helped you in your academic or career success?

I’ve had several academic nursing instructors who were top notch and helped me navigate my goal of obtaining my MSN. I’ve also worked alongside many nurses in my career who inspired me to continue my education to reach a terminal degree. I will complete my doctoral or Ph.D. in nursing one day. My current WGU manager is a wonderful mentor to me. She embraces change well, never settles for status quo, and encourages us to grow in our roles.

Have any of your students kept in touch with you after graduation?

Yes, I can recall many of my graduates because each of their stories is impactful. A few of us stay in touch via LinkedIn and/or social media. I enjoy keeping up with my graduates to see where their degree takes them in their careers. Knowing what they do with their MSN and where they possibly find new jobs is helpful in my mentoring practice.

What would you tell a prospective WGU student about the role that Program Mentors play in their academic journeys?

I absolutely love my role at WGU! I hope to still be serving as a mentor for decades to come. I would share my excitement and passion for WGU’s program with a prospective WGU student. Earning your MSN is not easy, but having a Program Mentor available to help is invaluable. Program Mentors provide pacing, encouragement, cheerleading, accountability, and knowledge of how to navigate challenging times. It’s very nice to have someone you can rely on for support throughout the entire program.

Thank you, Shannon, and thank you to all WGU Program Mentors who work tirelessly to help meet the individual needs of our students as they progress on their academic journeys.

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