Sydney Kate Watson, arts & living editor
Berry College Student Government Association (SGA) is partnering with residents of the Spires to provide students with an opportunity to network with individuals who have worked in their future career field, and also allows the residents to establish a lasting relationship with the student population.
In January, Spires residents hosted the first informal mentoring event at the continuing care retirement community, and the second Spires Mentoring session will be in the Krannert Ballroom on Thursday March 24. Spires resident and former SGA president Sam Ratcliffe (76C) emphasized that this event is informal and that residents are here to listen.
“One of the big things to get across, is this is a no judgment zone,” Ratcliffe said. “This isn’t talking to your parents.”
Students do not have to sign up to attend the event, but instead they can drop in. Residents will sit at different tables according to their career fields, such as law, finance, engineering, business, health and medicine and a table devoted to life coaching. While Berry students are extremely busy, SGA President Asa Owens urged students to take a few minutes to connect with Berry’s greater community.
“I just encourage students to turn out and to be a sponge and soak up as much information as you can because it’s a great opportunity,” Owens said.
According to Spires resident Russell McBride, residents have life experience and received theoretical masters at the “school of hard knocks,” and they want to share this invaluable information with students.
“I think the best thing that a mentor has to offer someone is wisdom and life experience, and you only gain wisdom and life through age and life experiences,” McBride said.
Ratcliffe reached out to Owens to build a relationship with Berry students, through the mentoring program. The residents would have preferred to begin their relationship with students earlier, but the COVID-19 pandemic inhibited this. Before building a relationship with students, Spires resident and wife of McBride, Judith McBride, emphasized that the relationship must have a foundation to build on.
“[The relationship between students and residents] needs to be firmly established,” Judith said. “[We’re] planting the seeds, and we want them to grow.”
To plant the seed for this relationship, Ratcliffe wanted as many students on board as possible, and that is why he wanted to work with SGA.
“Rather than waiting for Berry to do it institutionally, this kind of thing doesn’t work when you institutionalize it, [so] we went to SGA,” Ratcliffe said. “If the students don’t have buy [in] and own it, we’re spitting in the wind.”
Owens agreed with Ratcliffe, saying that SGA’s mission is about partnering with programs on campus, and when there is a group that is as willing and passionate as the Spires residents, SGA is more than happy to help.
“When we have a good committee and good group of the Spires wanting to reach out and wanting to develop a partnership, [SGA will] do what we can,” Owens said.
While it might be nerve-racking for some students to meet new people and make connections, Ratcliffe said to leave any expectations at the door.
“Come to the event without any real preconceived expectations,” Ratcliffe said. “Come in and just see how it plays out.”
Ratcliffe’s wife and Berry alumni (77C), Nancy Ratcliffe, emphasized that connecting with Spires residents is an effortless process because residents are welcoming, happy to help at any time and essentially act as grandparents.
“If people want to make contacts outside of the mentoring events, they are certainly welcome to do that,” Nancy said. “If you come to the Spires, it’s like having 90 sets of grandparents.”
According to Owens, Spires residents want to see Berry students succeed and are happy to be student’s pep squad.
“Something I wasn’t aware of before I started talking to Sam is like how much of a support system and flat-out cheerleader source that we have over at the Spires,” Owens said. “Spires residents love Berry students and they want to be a part of any and everything.”
The mentoring program and partnership with SGA is not only helpful for Berry students, but also to members of the Spires according to Russell.
“If the Spires residents knew that you guys were coming over on a regular basis, they would so much look forward to it,” Russell said.
According to Nancy, her and Sam jumpstarted the mentor program for two reasons; one as an opportunity for her and Sam to give back to the community that shaped them during their college years, and two, to help those who need it.
“Sam always says we have a lot to give back to Berry because Berry gave a lot to us, is our first reason,” Nancy said. “Our second, is we’ve come to realize how impactful Covid has been on young people.”
Through the Ratcliffes’ involvement on campus, they have become the unofficial grandparents of the women’s basketball team. According to junior McKenna Lentych, the pair care for the team on a personal level, including dinner invitations, matching basketball bracelets and Valentine’s Day goodie bags.
“We are cared for on a personal level,” Lentych said. “They’re willing to help us out whenever we need it, and they’re always just showing up for us. They’re just our cheerleaders.”
According to Lentych, while she has gathered multiple pieces of wisdom from the Ratcliffes, the most valuable knowledge she has learned from them is to think about how your actions impact others.
“Be intentional about things that you do for other people because that makes it really special, and people appreciate that more than you realize,” Lentych said.
Owens and Spires residents see their partnership continuing to offer mentor programs in the future. Lentych emphasized that a relationship with Spires residents is an indispensable opportunity for Berry students.
“I think going forward Berry students should make more of an effort to make a relationship with people who are Spires residents,” Lentych said. “There’s a lot of value in that [relationship], and it’s kind of an untapped thing that we haven’t discovered yet.”