Great Expectations is a statewide program for students who are either current or former foster youth between the ages of 16 and 24, providing students with specialized advising and guidance through their college experience. Students in this program have the opportunity to be matched with a community mentor, and there’s a peer mentoring component that offers first year students guidance from someone who was just in their shoes.

Sarah Miller is graduating this semester from the Nursing Program at Germanna Community College. She has been serving as a Peer Mentor for Germanna’s Great Expectations program since 2019. As a Peer Mentor, Sarah works with her mentee to tackle challenges they may be facing while getting adjusted to the college setting—anything from planning the nexts steps in their education to just being an open ear and friend.

Sarah also has a mentor, Connie, who was a librarian at her middle school. They bonded during that time, and stayed connected through Sarah’s younger sister even after Sarah left middle school and the sisters were placed in foster care. But when Sarah’s sister left middle school, Sarah and Connie lost contact. Once Sarah came to Germanna Community College, she joined Great Expectations as a mentee just as Connie was starting to mentor for the program. It was by coincidence that after going through the program’s matching procedures, Sarah and Connie ended up being matched with each other formally through Great Expectations. They have built a great bond over the years—Connie even bought Sarah her wedding dress!

In honor of Youth Voice Month this April, MENTOR Virginia was able to catch up with Sarah Miller for a virtual interview about the role mentoring has played in her life as she has moved between being a mentee and becoming a mentor herself.

MENTOR Virginia (MV): How has your role as a Peer Mentor through Great Expectations been a valuable experience for you and your mentee?

Sarah Miller (SM): Mentoring gives you the opportunity to showcase what you have learned and gone through during college. It can be a hard transition for some people and being able to help others succeed in their first year of college is crucial to their success throughout the rest of their life. Mentoring gives you an extra set of eyes, ears, and brain to talk about anything related to college life, including: time management, leadership, planning and implementation, and so many more skills that are crucial to the real world. Mentoring has given me the ability to take charge and help someone else reach their goals of finishing the semester with good grades. It also holds me accountable for the things that I am getting done and how I am helping my mentee. It is important to follow the same things that you tell your mentee, unless there are different circumstances, because it allows you both to be on a similar level even though one person has more experience than the other. 

MV: How is having a mentor preparing you for the next step in your life and career?

 SM: Having a mentor is just as important as mentoring because it gives you the value that you are giving your mentee. I have grown in so many ways with my mentor and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be mentored while also mentoring. I feel more prepared to go into interviews for my field. I feel more confident in my own skin. I feel more confident in myself in a more general way as well. I feel like I can connect to more people faster and easier than I did before joining the mentor program. 

MV: What has your mentor taught you, and what have you taught your mentor?

 SM: My mentor taught me to worry less about others and what others think, and focus more on the things that I personally enjoy and take the time to do the things that I enjoy. I have taught my mentor to open her thoughts to others and not be as outwardly vocal about certain things regarding others. We have both grown into different people throughout the last year and a half, but I feel like I have learned a lot, gained a lot of confidence, and been able to look at myself and the world differently than had I not had a mentor or become a mentor. 

After graduating this spring with her LPN license, Sarah will be staying in the Fredericksburg area to work and plans to eventually return to Germanna to get her RN license. Sarah and Connie plan to stay in touch.