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Graduating senior Kaye Buell says mentor John Gaul offered her
helpful advice and support, giving her confidence in the career choices
she was making.
When Kaye Buell
celebrates her graduation from the University of Delaware on Friday, May
28, the friends and family who gather will be joined by someone who has
never met any of them in person — alumnus John Gaul, who has been
mentoring Buell throughout her senior year.
“He has been so enthusiastic, so supportive of my plans, and he’s had
good advice for me,” said Buell, who earned her bachelor’s degree in
international relations with a minor in Islamic studies and was mentored
remotely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. “I wanted to meet
him now in person, and my parents wanted to meet him, so we invited him
to celebrate graduation with us.”
Gaul, a lawyer who graduated from UD in 1978 with a degree in political science, was matched with Buell through the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) Mentor Collective program,
which began this academic year by pairing alumni with students in their
senior year. Plans call for the program to expand, gradually adding
interested juniors, as well as establishing a peer-mentoring component
that would serve first- and second-year students.
The idea for the program began with members of the CAS Dean’s
Advisory Council, who wanted not only to offer the college advice on
policies and goals but also to launch some concrete initiatives. Several
members had been involved in mentoring, informally or through other
programs, and took the idea to Dean John A. Pelesko, who was
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Alumnus John Gaul, shown here at a 2018 Law Weekend mentoring
event at UD, used his successful experiences mentoring prospective
lawyers to participate in the new CAS Mentor Collective as well.
“Mentoring can be a particular challenge in CAS because our college
is so diverse, with so many majors and such a wide range of careers our
students are considering,” Pelesko said. “When the pandemic hit, we knew
our seniors would especially need support as they worried about
disruptions to their academic and career plans.”
The college partnered with the Mentor Collective organization, which
distributes questionnaires to interested mentors and students, provides
training and then matches a mentor with one or more mentees. CAS funds
the program entirely by donations.
“I’ve always wanted the college to have a mentoring program, and we’re
lucky to have Dean Pelesko and an advisory council whose members want to
get involved beyond our regular meetings,” said Darelle Riabov, Class
of 1973 and chairperson of the Dean’s Advisory Council. “I’ve gotten to
know students over the years [through UD’s Distinguished Scholars
program] and stayed in touch with them as a kind of informal mentor, and
I know how rewarding this kind of relationship can be — for everyone.”
For Gaul, mentoring also was nothing new. He spearheaded the CAS LP3
program, which creates a mentoring network of alumni who are practicing
attorneys or law students and UD undergraduates planning a career in
law, and continues his involvement in those activities. Despite a busy
schedule, he is now mentoring three additional students through the new
Mentor Collective program.
During his own undergraduate years, Gaul said, he was “floundering”
for a time until James Magee, now the Judge Hugh M. Morris Professor
Emeritus of Political Science, stepped up to mentor him.
“That was so helpful in keeping me on track to graduate and then go
on to law school,” said Gaul, who practices in Philadelphia. “I wanted
to pay that aspect of it forward.”
After a year of remote mentoring, graduating senior Emily Miles
(left) and alumna Darelle Riabov were able to meet safely in person,
following COVID guidelines, for the first time this month. Both describe
the CAS Mentor Collective program as beneficial, rewarding and fun.
Mentoring three students who were not planning on attending law
school was a new experience, he said. His first thought about Buell was:
“Oh, my goodness, how am I going to be able to help this kid who’s
studying international relations and Islamic studies?”
But as it turned out, Buell was interested in a possible career with
the FBI, and Gaul had a contact who offered her some advice. With Buell
and with his other mentees, both communications majors, he also was able
to put them in touch with useful resources, review their resumes with
them and help them practice or refine their job-interview skills.
Participants describe the program as helpful and confidence-boosting for students and highly rewarding for mentors.
“Every mentor has a different relationship with their mentee,
depending on what works for them,” Riabov said. “But they all really
feel like they’re making a difference. … For students, it’s great that
they have online resources to get information about careers, but they
still are going to have to go out and talk to people. That’s where a
one-on-one relationship with a working adult can help them prepare.”
Her mentee, Emily Miles, who is graduating this year with a degree in
communication, agreed with Riabov’s assessment of the program’s
success. Both said they were amazed at how much they had in common in
terms of professional interests, hobbies and personality. Because of the
pandemic, they met remotely, often with twice-weekly phone calls, and
both say they formed a close relationship.
“I signed up for the program because I thought it would be helpful to
have my own individual resource, someone I could ask questions and get
advice from, and Darelle has been great,” Miles said, adding that Riabov
offered her a wealth of career-planning tips. “The connection we forged
has been really special.”
Mentors in the program encourage other alumni to get involved, saying
that almost everyone has more to offer a student than they might
“You don’t have to have some special, high-level expertise to be a
mentor,” said Jim Grimes, who graduated from UD with majors in criminal
justice and economics in 1980 and is now retired from the University
Police Department. He has mentored a student with an interest in
criminology, not directly in law enforcement, and he said many of their
interactions have involved her bouncing ideas off him and looking for
feedback. He’s also been able to direct her to resources with which he’s
“Just based on your life experiences, you have knowledge to share,”
Grimes said. “Helping students doesn’t require specialized knowledge or a
great deal of time, but it’s very rewarding. I think the mentors learn
With pandemic restrictions easing, future mentoring might happen in
person more often, but the program expects remote interactions to
continue to play an important role. A Zoom or telephone call is easier
to fit into both mentors’ and mentees’ busy schedules, and it allows
alumni who live far away to be involved.
“What was remarkable to me was how many alumni stepped up to serve as
mentors,” Pelesko said. “Some who aren’t local have been wanting to
connect with us, and this has given them the opportunity to contribute
in a really meaningful way.”
Article by Ann Manser; photos by Wenbo Fan and courtesy of Emily Miles and Kaye Buell
Published May 27, 2021