One person can change a student’s trajectory.
For O’Neill alum Kerri Alford, that person is retired O’Neill faculty member Jim White.
“He’s been pivotal to where I am in my life,” Kerri Alford (BSCJ’14) recalled. “There’s a lot that I owe to that man.”
Now an educator herself with Atterbury Job Corps, she points to a photo in her office—the only photo there—and recounts the many letters of recommendations, connections, guidance, and opportunities White provided to her as a student and as an alum.
“There are just so many things that have been a direct result of him being the mentor he was and still is to me,” she explained.
O’Neill IUPUI faculty members have a reputation for helping students during their time at O’Neill and beyond. That culture of support is a cornerstone of every O’Neill classroom.
It’s an intentional effort from faculty members, says Peter Federman, an assistant professor at O’Neill.
“One of the things I’ve really tried to expand upon here is mentoring our fantastic undergraduate and graduate students, and helping them to develop their research interests,” he said.
Federman, like many other faculty members at O’Neill, works with students in and out of the classroom.
“I have a small team of graduate assistants who I work with,” he added. “I find them to be just fantastic.”
Research opportunities often allow students to take part in academic research.
For O’Neill alum Morgan Farnworth, the experience and mentorship gained through her research work with O’Neill Associate Professor Cullen Merritt laid the groundwork for her to become a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Kansas.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without his support,” she said. “Dr. Merritt helped me grow as a graduate student, professional, and scholar during my time at O’Neill. His mentorship set me up for success in the future. I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done.”
Deirdre Kelley (BSPA‘19, MPA‘21) says Merritt and other faculty members also played a critical role in her academic and professional careers. Like Farnworth, she served as a research assistant to Merritt. Through that position, her work was published while she was still a freshman—a rare occurrence in the world of research.
“Dr. Merritt set a tone of excellence,” she recalled. “Having him as someone who cared about helping me move forward with excellence and integrity was impactful.”
His mentorship was so impactful for Kelley that she is now paying it forward. She’s mentoring one of Merritt’s current students and hoping to provide guidance similar to her student experience.
“Your faculty mentors can help you achieve a goal you already have, ot they can help you envision better goals,” Kelley added. “They can really help you develop your dreams and make them possible.”
Oftentimes, O’Neill faculty use their own networks to help make that happen.
Danielle Watkins, an O’Neill Policy Studies major, says those connections provide pivotal opportunities for students.
“A lot of our professors have worked closely with professionals within the field of studies that we’re interested in as students,” Watkins said. “If there’s something out there you are interested in, an O’Neill professor has a connection for you and is more than happy to help set you up with that person that they know.”
Plugging into the O’Neill network not only helps students looking for internships, it also helps graduates searching for work. Kelley says she experienced that firsthand. She was able to lean on her faculty mentors to help her make new connections in a new city and land her first job.
“When I moved to Chicago, I didn’t have a network, so I started reaching out immediately to all of my O’Neill faculty,” she said.
“She credits adjunct faculty member Jamie Levy with helping her write and win her first contract for a nonprofit consulting position. When she left Chicago to move near her family in Tennessee, she reached out to him again. This time, he had an opportunity for her within his own consulting firm.”
She’s now working with nearly a dozen nonprofits across the country, helping them tell their stories to funders, improve their operation systems, evaluate their programs, and more effectively accomplish their missions as a result. She’s getting to live her dream of making a positive impact in the lives of people and organizations.
“I cannot imagine how different my path might have been without mentorship from O’Neill faculty,” Kelley said with a smile.