OKLAHOMA CITY — Five Southwest Oklahoma mentors are being recognized by the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence and their community mentoring organizations during National Mentor Month in January.

The honored mentors were submitted by their respective mentoring organizations across the state, and each received certificates of achievement from the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence. The certificates are being presented in the communities where the mentors volunteer.

The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence is a statewide nonprofit that recognizes and encourages academic excellence in Oklahoma’s public schools. Through its statewide mentoring initiative, the foundation promotes the growth and development of quality youth mentoring programs. The foundation works with school districts and mentoring organizations to promote mentoring as a positive step toward academic success.

The local mentors are:

•Elizabeth Nalley, Lawton, is a professor of chemistry at Cameron University. She and mentee Theresa Hinkle, a Cameron senior, have been matched for two years.

“Dr. Nalley has been a tireless advocate for underrepresented students in STEM,” shared director Brenda Morales. “She has mentored over 100 undergraduates by providing them experience through chemistry research. Dr. Nalley’s mentorship has allowed students to gain valuable research experience that has led them to a successful completion of their undergraduate careers as well as pursuit of masters and doctorate degrees.”

In addition to working with students in their research, Dr. Nalley loves helping students prepare to present their research at scientific conferences.

“Dr. Nalley has been there for me, offering me personal counsel and support during a hard time in my life,” shared Hinkle. “To be honest, before Dr. Nalley’s help I questioned if I would even finish college. Now I’m graduating this December with not one but two degrees and have no doubt I’ll be competitive for any doctoral program.”

About the Program: Through the Oklahoma Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, underrepresented college students majoring in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are paired with faculty mentors to learn research skills.

•Terry Dennard, Duncan, is a vice-president at Legacy Bank and has been a volunteer mentor with One True Light since 2014. Dennard and his mentee, Skylar, have been matched for seven years.

“Terry has been extremely consistent in his commitment to meet weekly with Skylar over the last seven years,” said One True Light administrative director Joan Brock. “Terry and Skylar love playing UNO and eating pizza, which Terry picks up on the way to their meetings each week. Terry is an amazing example to other mentors of what it takes to commit to a long-term mentoring relationship and to build trust over time.”

“When Skylar and I first started meeting we had very little common ground,” Dennard shared. “I learned that when there appears to be no common ground that if you look, work, and make a commitment to getting to know one another you can find that common ground and really enjoy the conversations with one another.”

About the Program: Link ONE Mentoring is the cornerstone project of One True Light, a nonprofit connecting local churches and concerned citizens to meet the needs of Duncan Public Schools’ students. Link ONE mentors volunteer once a week, providing support and encouragement, lending a listening ear, and helping students form a positive vision for their future.

•Olivia Long, Elgin, is an Oklahoma State University senior majoring in electrical engineering. She mentored three freshman engineering students during the fall 2020 semester.

Long has found some of the best mentor-mentee activities involve just doing things around campus. Trying a new coffee drink at the Student Union, enjoying the breeze on a hot day at Theta Pond, or hiking to the northern portions of campus for dinner allow her to get to know her mentees and for them to get to know the campus at the same time.

COVID-19 has made it difficult for students looking to make social connections this semester. Long shared, “One of the greatest things to come from my relationship between my mentees and me is that I am able to provide an example of how that supportive peer connection is supposed to feel, and I hope our friendship encourages my mentees to continue to build their own support group.”

About the Program: Each year, OSU’s College of Engineering, Architecture, and Technology selects top incoming students to become a part of the CEAT Scholars Program, providing participants with professional development, community service, industrial explorations, international experiences, and cultural experiences. •Bryan and Ida Mae Wheeler, Manitou, are retired community volunteers. They have been providing mentoring support to the Southwest Oklahoma Juvenile Center for more than two decades through the Kairos Torch program and as individuals.

“As mentors, Bryan and Ida Mae have steadfastly and continuously served the youth through weekly individual mentoring sessions and monthly group mentoring meetings,” shared Volunteer Services Specialist Kelli Mahanay. “Were it not for their continued dedication over the last 20 years, more than a thousand youth would not have been provided a spiritual foundation upon which to build a new and productive life.”

During weekly mentoring sessions, the young men being mentored were able to play board games and dominoes with Bryan and Ida Mae. Constructive and meaningful conversations took place during this time and the young men were able to share their worries and concerns in a safe environment.

About the Program: The Southwest Oklahoma Juvenile Center is a medium-security state facility operated by the Office of Juvenile Affairs. The center houses 60 young men between the ages of 13-19 who have been adjudicated by the courts as juvenile delinquents or youthful offenders.

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