National Mentoring Month: How a Mentee Becomes the Mentor

Dr. Michael Thornton at Deerfoot Youth Camp

Written by: Heather Gillin (cehdcomm@tamu.edu)
Post date: January 30, 2019

If not for a generous mentor, Clinical Assistant Professor Dr. Michael Thornton may have never earned his doctoral degree, or even attended college at all.

In 1987, Thornton was set to begin his freshman year at Louisiana State University. He was a first-generation college student. His parents and siblings did not attend college. Therefore, Thornton was not familiar with the college experience.

“I was overwhelmed by the size of the school,” Thornton said. “I actually had a roommate and a degree picked out, and left. I decided I could not do it.”

After leaving, he thought he would join the Marine Corps, until his high school mentor, Don Barker, called offering academic scholarship to return to school. Three weeks later he was on campus at Northwestern State University, participating in the inaugural class of a new academic program, the Louisiana Scholars College.

The First-Gen Network

Impacted by his experiences as a mentee, he is now choosing to mentor first-generation college students through the College of Education and Human Development’s First-Gen Network.

“With mentoring, there is the ability to develop some trust and a meaningful, deep relationship,” Thornton said. “When you have someone, who is truly on your side, someone who will hold you accountable, but also build you up, that matters.”

The First-Gen Network began in 2017, spearheaded by Director Kelley O’Neal, M.Ed. The program aims to support first-generation students in the College of Education and Human Development through workshops and mentoring. Thornton will join the First-Gen Network as a faculty mentor in Spring 2019.

O’Neal said Thornton is a great asset to the First-Gen Network. “Not only was he a first-gen student, he has proven mentoring skills that will without a doubt give him an opportunity to connect and guide many of the current first-gen students enrolled in the College of Education and Human Development here at Texas A&M,” O’Neal said.

Thornton has been steering young people in the right direction since 1992. He has experience as a high school and collegiate basketball coach and now as now as Executive Director of Read Youth Charities and the Deerfoot Youth Camp.

He hopes to inspire his mentees to adopt “lessons for life”, his take on life lessons, that are applicable through every situation in life.

“It’s often said that sports and competition can teach life lessons,” Thornton said. “I believe life teaches life lessons, but that with the proper guidance and support in place, we can find ‘lessons for life’ through sports and competition, even everyday living, that can help us successfully navigate life’s lessons.”

Thornton said he looks forward to mentoring because he believes young people are the most valuable resource we have. He hopes to be a positive influence and ally to those experiencing what he went through as a first-generation student.

“The best way I can influence change is through the people I interact with,” Thornton said. “Mentoring is not just about me trying to help young people get through college, it is about helping young people matriculate through life.”