Mentoring in small groups leads to big success

By Barb McBreen, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Communications Service

Once you meet Brandon Washington you won’t soon forget his smile and caring attitude. That may be why the students he mentors listen when he offers advice on schedules, homework or day-to-day problems.

“I just love to help young people believe in themselves,” says Washington, a senior in biology and kinesiology.

Washington grew up in Arlington, Texas—home of the Dallas Cowboys. He thought he’d like to play college football, but the offers he received weren’t the right fit for him. He earned academic scholarships to Iowa State University and decided to come to Ames.

“My mom wasn’t too thrilled because it’s so far from home,” Washington says.

Since he arrived at Iowa State he’s been exploring different career options. He has the confidence and the grades to become a doctor, but isn’t sure that’s for him. Instead, he says, he found his calling working with students as a peer mentor.

“He knows the struggles involved in coming to the university setting,” says Lauren Westerdale, Biology Education Success Team (BEST) peer mentoring adviser. “He shares those experiences with students and encourages them to persevere and bounce back.”

He works with two peer mentoring groups, both in biology and kinesiology. Westerdale says his leadership style attracts students.

“He’s a fun, motivated student, and he is sincere and genuine,” Westerdale says. “He really connects with students and wants to guide them. He helps them feel at home at Iowa State and become academically successful.”

This past summer he interned at the Boys & Girls Club of Ames. With a summer school atmosphere focused on youth development, they offer programs for children ranging in age from six to 18. The experience broadened his idea of what he hopes to do in the future. “I want to be involved in youth development in some way,” Washington says. “I’m hoping to go to graduate school in an area related to student development or student affairs.”

He continues to work part time at the Boys & Girls Club as a youth development professional. Kaitlin Binnebose, operations director at the club, says he oversees gym activities and helps students with homework.

His work at the club earned him an Employee of the Month award in September. “He is one of the most respectful, responsible and happiest people I’ve ever met,” Binnebose says. “And the things the kids say about Brandon are inspiring—he makes them feel special.”

Jenny Gibbs, the adviser for the kinesiology peer mentor group, says evaluations from his mentees are heartfelt and life-changing.

“His students have said, ‘It’s because of him I’m still here.’ ‘Instead of dropping out, he advised me to just drop a class,’” Gibbs says. “He has this special ability to touch people’s lives and make a difference. And when he smiles at you, you know your day will be better.”