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Benefits of Mentorship Run Just as Deep for Mentor

Jan 30, 2023

‘It’s hard to describe how good it feels to know you've been a part of really changing someone’s life’

Navigating college can be a daunting task, especially for adult learners who are often juggling a job, family, and other life obligations simultaneously. Western Governors University  (WGU) students don't have to face it alone. All incoming students at WGU are assigned a program mentor to provide guidance and support throughout their college experience. The rewards run deep for the mentee, but for Oregon senior mentor Shay Clark, the feeling of making a true difference in a student’s life is immeasurable.

“I can make a difference in people's lives in a way that I haven't been able to in other jobs,” says Clark, who joined WGU as a mentor more than 13 years ago. “I’m there with them through the challenging times and there to celebrate the wins and ultimately their graduation. It’s hard to describe how good that feels to know that you've been a part of really changing someone’s life.”

The nationally recognized online university calls its mentor program one of its significant factors to its success, as many of its 300,000-plus graduates attribute their accomplishments to their mentors. Time and again, graduates will say that they could not have done it without the help of their mentor.

WGU’s innovative mentorship program redefines academic support and the fact that it’s done mostly on the phone, makes it even more accessible. For Clark, who identifies as gay and did not have the support of her family, the road to finding her true self was an isolated one. It was one of the reasons that she was initially drawn to social work because she wanted to be there for others in ways that she longed for as a student and human being.

“For me, this is sort of like social work but in a different format. This is rewarding to me in such a different way because getting a degree changes my mentee’s life in so many different capacities,” she says. “It’s such a personal approach where we discuss just about anything in a student’s life that is playing a role in their ability to get their degree.”

Like so many other WGU mentors, who help navigate all of life’s challenges with their students, Clark has seen issues related to health, homelessness, financial hardships, a death of a loved one or having to take care of a family member. Whatever the case may be, she vows to be there.  

“I think that type of personal support you just don't find anywhere else and makes for such a unique experience,” she says. “For students to feel supported in all those different ways is something they don't even believe can be true until they're here and recognize that wow, even over the phone or text, they have support.”

Clark’s own experiences play a critical role in how she relates to each of her students.

“I knew first-hand that maybe I could relate better to others who might be going through something similar. I treasure those experiences and treat them like a growth opportunity,” she says. “It allows for a deeper connection and to be more supportive than someone who maybe hasn't had similar challenges.”

Such is the case with anxiety. Often, students face anxiety about taking exams or that they're not going to ultimately graduate.

“It's been something I've felt deeply too. I like to use the approach that there's really no failure at WGU,” she says. “I coach my students to see anxiety as a positive because if you’re worried that you're not going to make the cut, then it means that it’s something that you really want to do.”

Then there are students like Bryan Kennedy from Battleground, Wash, who is on the other end of the spectrum. Despite working full-time while also raising a family, is managing to graduate from WGU in only two terms.

“I think Bryan is a testament to a student who can really make WGU work for him,” Clark says.  “He'll have periods of time where he won't really be able to focus on school. But then when he finds these pockets of time, he'll finish like 10 classes in a row, and I can hardly keep up!”

For Kennedy, his admiration for Clark runs deep too.

“The mentorship program is the single most important factor of my success at WGU,” he says. “For the past 20 years I've worked up from concrete masonry to supply-chain leadership. After I was twice told ‘just get a degree and we'll get you promoted,’ I decided it was time. Having a single point of contact for my education has allowed me to focus more on studying and less on bureaucracy.”

It all comes back to one of WGU’s leadership principles, which begins and ends with being student obsessed.

It’s what drew Dr. Tonya Drake, regional vice president, to lead the Northwest Region five years ago.  

“It’s clear that Shay Clark truly believes in the inherent worth of every student and ensures they have the support they need to succeed. Shay’s contributions to our university shine bright with each student she mentors,” Drake says.

Just like Clark and the 1,500-plus mentors at WGU often echo, Drake says it comes down to changing someone’s life.  

“Whatever path our students come from and whatever they face in their academic journey, we want them to know we support and believe in them. It takes a village and in this case, our incredible mentors are our university’s foundation,” Drake says. “Whenever I come across someone who has achieved a lot in their life, there is usually someone who had such a positive influence. Someone who cheered them on and showed them the way. More than often, it’s a mentor.”

To find out more about WGU and how you could get $2500 toward your degree, check out the

New Year Scholarship Opportunity.

By Courtney Dunham, Communications Manager for WGU Northwest Region. For media or other inquiries, contact Courtney at 206.388.8926 or

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