Bellone visits SBU as students buddy up

Bellone visits SBU as students buddy up

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Bellone meets students and their mentors at Stony Brook University. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Mentors are making a new mark on Stony Brook University thanks to a county program.

Working alongside Mentor New York, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) rolled out the county’s newest mentoring program at Stony Brook University’s Center for Molecular Medicine on Jan. 29. In the company of students and staff, Bellone said the county kicked off the mentoring program to help area newcomers navigate their way through county politics and education.

While the program is in its early stages, its public announcement came in light of National Mentoring Month in January. Bellone met with six students, mentors, and faculty on Friday to also discuss the importance of mentors for the young adults majoring in science related fields.

“The benefits of [mentoring] are absolutely amazing,” Bellone said during the meeting. “From a better academic performance, better economic prospects, better statistics … the list goes on and on.”

Mentors were key to the success of Michelle Olakkengil, a junior at Stony Brook who said she discovered her passions with a mentor’s help. Olakkengil shifted from conducting research in obstetrics and gynecology to pursuing her passion for public speaking by working hand-in-hand with a more experienced peer.

“Having these mentors can really boost a student’s personal development,” Olakkengil said. “I was able to find out more about myself.”

She is currently applying for the Harry S. Truman Scholarship, which supports graduates and the development of students like Olakkengil, who are committed to public service leadership through mentoring.

While sophomore Amna Haider is more science-minded, she said her mentors helped her tackle different machinery and tools that helped her to better understand engineering. She said that applying past knowledge was key for her area of study and that lesson was only learned via mentorship.

For 32-year-old Daniel Irizarry, the university’s mentorship program hit home.

Irizarry left his family business in construction to attend Stony Brook University and will pursue his doctorate in genetics after he graduates this summer. But he said the reality of leaving a family-run business made it more stressful to adapt to life as a student.

“If it hadn’t been for the mentorship, I don’t think I’d be able to succeed,” said Irizarry about his mentor Jennie Williams. “It can be pretty difficult navigating these kinds of things, especially when you have a family.”

The mentorship program at the university is an example of what Bellone said he hopes to do in his office in the coming months. According to Maureen Lagarde, special events and donor management specialist at Mentor New York, Bellone’s office contacted her organization with hopes of finding ways to participate in January’s mentoring awareness month.

She added that Bellone’s initiative sets “an example for other government departments and businesses alike.” Currently, Mentor New York is helping around 57,000 youths with its more than 400 programs. Organizations or individuals can contact Mentor New York to either create a mentoring program or to find a program that best suits their needs.

“When you’re growing up, you don’t want to listen to adults,” Bellone said. “[But] to get where you want to be [you have] to talk to people who’ve been down that road before. That’s why this [mentorship program] is so wonderful.”