Portraits of Mentorship: Mandy Shoemaker & Alesha Hamilton on Giving Life a Shot

Portraits of Mentorship: Mandy Shoemaker & Alesha Hamilton on Giving Life a Shot

With only one semester of her undergraduate education to go before heading to law school, Alesha has been lucky to find not only role models, but also important friendships among advisors and other students. Mandy, her University of Cincinnati Honors Program advisor, finds inspiration among Alesha and other students who push themselves outside of their comfort zones. The two have grown together over the past few years and helped each other in ways they wouldn’t have imagined, expanding the typical roles of the mentor-mentee relationship.

Interview by Ellen Huggins. Photography by Yashira Afanador.

Tell us a little bit about yourselves and where you are in your career or studies.

Mandy Shoemaker: I work for the University Honors Program at the University of Cincinnati and I've been working in higher education for about 7 years. Long story short, I've been at a few institutions – this is the third one I’ve worked at. I was in Arizona for a while at the University of Arizona and before that I was at University of Pennsylvania. And I have a law degree that I don't use directly – just kind of “informs my practice,” I'll say. I live around here in Madisonville.

Alesha Hamilton: I'm a fourth year graduating senior majoring in psychology and criminal justice, pre-law. I actually got my first law school acceptance today. I came early to tell Mandy. There were tears. The plan is to go straight into law school.

Tell us how you both came to build the relationship that you have today.

Alesha: The backstory is kind of interesting. When honors was hiring – it would have been the summer of 2015 – I sat on the search committee for a new advisor and I helped with interviews. Mandy came for her interview and I went to the lunch portion where they send three honors ambassadors with the candidates. After, we come back and give our evaluation and feedback.

I was at Mandy's lunch with two other students and I remember getting a really good general vibe, but at that point I didn't really know much about her. All we had in common was that we both had lived in Arizona and she had a legal background. She was hired and assigned as my advisor.

Mandy: I'm more pleasant to be around when I'm eating, which is probably why she got a good vibe during that process.

I worked over in the alumni association and served as a cluster facilitator for the LeaderShape Institute that we do where I met Alesha. I was assigned to advise CCM students, nursing students, and half of the arts and sciences students – the humanities and social sciences half. However, I also got to advise psychology students because of numbers within the office, so Alesha was my advisee. Another advisor and I laughed because she mentioned to me, “Alesha's just a really strong suit. You can advise her, but you don't have to do much because she's very proactive.”

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Alesha, would you say that it helped to have Mandy when applying to law schools, which I'm sure can be stressful?

Alesha: Yes she did, immensely, because I knew she had kind of been through the process. Not only that, but she had done very similar programs to what I want to do when I go to law school. She kind of understood the stress and she's very type A. I had her review all my essays and everything up until hitting that submit button. It was stressful throughout the process, so when I got to come in and say I submitted a few and then today, it’s so exciting.

Mandy: [to Alesha] That was the best news you could give me today.

How would you describe the difference in Alesha's process from when you were deciding to go to law school?

Mandy: I was in law school here at the University of Cincinnati from 2006 to 2009. During that time, we had a serious financial crisis and then the recession in 2008 when the market crashed. I was there at a time when a lot of people were applying to law school and a lot of people were going. I'm at the top end of the millennial generation, so I can't say we're in different generations, yet I was in a space where a lot of people didn't worry about cost of education – you just took out a bunch of loans. The process has changed significantly between when I was applying and when Alesha was applying because of the landscape of law school admissions. Some schools have closed; some schools have opened. Alesha is much more in tune with what she wants to do than I was, as evidenced by the fact that I don't practice. Mine was kind of “cast a wide net” because I had a pretty strong grade point average and not a very strong LSAT score. The first thing I said to Alesha was, “You never know with the admissions process; if you have the funding to submit an app – because it can get expensive – you got to give it a shot.” I know people advise not to apply to certain schools if you don't have certain scores, but I always say go for it.

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How do you think that your educational and professional experiences have been impacted by the role of mentors in your lives?

Mandy: It makes me get emotional when I talk about all the people who have helped support me and the decisions I've made. We teach a class in honors, “Gateway to University Honors,” and we talk about, like, the intrinsic support that you give yourself in your life and the extrinsic support that you receive from your support systems.

There have been countless times in my life when I thought that I couldn't do something or I wasn't good enough or I didn't matter or I shouldn't go for it and give it a shot. Having people that mentored me when I was in college or in my career were pivotal in helping me make even the smallest decision to get up in the morning and give it a shot.

There can be days where things are overwhelming in a number of ways. They've been crucial in shaping me and helping me realize that if my original plan educationally, professionally, or personally doesn't come to fruition, that there are a million other ways that I can achieve it. I'm not always that person in my head.

It's very much a game of stepping outside of yourself when you're trying to do that intrinsic motivation. If you have someone who says something that you could have said to yourself, but you may not have believed that if you said it to yourself, it gives that authenticity.

That may be a product of growing up in the system as women. We caution ourselves; we question every move we make, and if there is another woman saying that we ought to give it a shot and they’ll be there if it works out or not – that's been everything.

Alesha: I tend to be pretty hard on myself, so it’s important having mentors telling me, “You're kind of being stupid right now. You're better than this.” People who I consider my mentors are very realistic with me, like being a cheerleader but not overly positive. I'm not the type of person that responds to, “You can do it and get everything you want.” But people saying, “You're right, if you apply to that, you might not get it. But at the same time, you have all these other opportunities and you will have more in the future. If this one thing doesn't work out, it's not the end of the world.”

Are there any other mentors that have been especially important in shaping where you are today?

Mandy: This will sound interesting because I think that many people assume that the word “mentor” only applies to someone with more life experience than you.

Every time I'm in my office and I see a student do something that I know was a move outside of their comfort zone, even if they don't know that I'm paying that much attention, I will leave the office and think, “That gives me strength.”

I have very specific long-term relationships with people that I would qualify as a mentor. But I also think throughout our lives the people that positively impact us can fill that role, as well. In a lot of instances, it was faculty members during my education. I mean, in four years of college, three years of law, you're bound to meet some people who know what they're talking about. I had a supervisor when I was at the University of Pennsylvania Law School who came into my office one day and asked if I wanted to work in registration and I said, “No. I have no interest in that.” She went on a 10 minute diatribe about what she had noticed about me and my strengths and what it seemed to her that I liked doing. I thought, “Huh. It doesn't make sense not to give this a shot.” She ended up being someone that I’m very close to to this day, because when you find out that people are paying attention to you and that they're willing to share their insight, you hang onto those people hard for a while.

Alesha: I do have a lot of people I look up to. I know especially my first and second year there were people a year above me that I really looked up to who reached out to me, got me involved on campus, helped me meet people, and get connected to resources. Even now as a senior, there's people who are the year below me that are my friends and I look up to them. I'm inspired by the people that are my same age and younger that are on campus and I think that kind of helps in both personal and professional development.

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Would you both say that the mentor-mentee relationship goes both ways?

Mandy: Absolutely. Alesha has been hugely instrumental in informing my practice as a professional because I see what a student can be when they're in their best place, being their best self, and they're getting outside of their comfort zone. That makes me want that for every student I work with. It shows me that if someone who is in college can be as eloquent and poised and professional as she is, then, even on days when I'm faced with a challenge like confronting some kind of conflict, I cannot tell you that I have not said, “What would Alesha do in this situation?”

Alesha: I do think that it goes both ways. I've been in situations where I've had somebody who's been a mentor or helped me in some capacity and they've said, “I need you now because I had a student that’s similar to you.” It’s almost passing along that mentorship aspect to girls going down the chain. Every year, I have taken on a mentor or mentee for some program I've been in. There’s the cliche, “You learn more from them than they can learn from you,” but I truly have learned more from the first and second year students that I mentored in the past few years.

Read the other stories from the Portraits of Mentorship series: Dr. Jane Sojka & Hannah Fereshtehkhou and Dr. Karen Bankston & Sara Burke.

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