Helping to connect interests with opportunities

UCHealth employee finds mentor program rewarding both for him and students
Aug. 16, 2016

Jerry Carlson can clearly articulate the benefits of being a mentor. “It’s fun, it’s time-effective, and it makes a difference,” he said.

For the past 11 years, the medical librarian has been providing students with something their teachers and professors cannot — extensive knowledge of the medical industry and professional connections.

And it’s given him something as well: a chance to explore fields outside his everyday work and have a hand in developing the next generation of medical professionals.

“Students  need to interact with professionals in the industry to see where the industry’s bar is set, as well as understand what they need to do to be successful in post -secondary settings as well as starting their career,” said Veronica Randall, a biomedical science teacher at Prairie View High School in Henderson, Colorado. “But I think our mentors benefit as well. Steel sharpens steel.”

Carlson is one of six UCHealth employees who invest about an hour each week to mentor a sixth- to 12th-grader via Mentored Pathways’ electronic mentoring program. UCHealth is a sponsor of the program.

Jerry Carlson has been mentoring students for 11 years through Mentored Pathways.

“Having the support of someone in the industry makes all the difference in the world to these students,” said David Neils, cofounder and director of Mentored Pathways. “These mentors hold all the experience and knowledge that the students need to be able to connect their interests with opportunities and develop a rock-solid path, with mentor support, to fully leverage these career opportunities.”

There are currently more than 8,000 openings in the Colorado economy for health care workers that are going unfilled due to lack of talent, Neils added. Mentored Pathways provides health care professionals the opportunity to support a student from middle school to employment.

Carlson is set to help at least one of Randall’s high school students in the upcoming weeks. But that only makes a small dent in the need for mentors — more than 100 students signed up for biomedical projects as of early August and there currently are only 22 mentors.

“I invite all professionals at UCHealth to be a mentor by simply writing two supportive messages a week for a student,” Neils said. “That investment makes a big difference for each student.”

Neils and his team help teachers design projects that give students an opportunity to tackle issues that are real to industries such as biomedical, engineering and business. At the end of the program, the goal is for students to have a portfolio of industry-recognized work, a career and education plan, and a network of industry experts who will support them in their journey through secondary education and into a successful career.

“The students collaborate with mentors to work on real-world problems that can help meet the current and future needs of the industry,” Randall said.

For example, students from Longmont researched various aspects of how the 2013 Colorado flood affected residents and chose one for which to offer a solution. Another project had students investigating where food comes from and the impact of production on society, exploring topics such as the effects of food dye. Another group of students from Missouri was challenged with rebranding an existing company to breathe new life into products and update the image.

Randall is using Mentored Pathways to complement what her students are already doing with biomedical sciences through the national program Project Lead the Way.

“These kids are writing and researching far beyond what was ever expected of me at that age, maybe even until my later years in college,” Carlson said.

As a librarian, Carlson is highly trained and experienced on where to find information, and many times that means sharing his wide network of medical professionals to help his mentee retrieve the knowledge he or she is after.

“A lot of what people want to know isn’t published,” Carlson said, and that is why a professional network becomes so important.

Over the years, Carlson has worked as a mentor on projects related to the Holocaust, helped edit historical accounts of community members, and created slideshows to support worldwide causes, in addition to health topics.

And one great aspect of the mentor project is that he, as the mentor, gets to select the student he’ll work with. Although the Mentored Pathways is based on the Front Range, the students — same as the mentors — live throughout the world.

Neils said this strategy is successful because mentors are able to choose a student with whom they share common interests.

“We end up with higher-quality matches because mentors can bring to bear all of their experiences, education, and wisdom when choosing a project and finally a student,” he said.

After a mentor is matched with a student, he or she is expected to message the student at least twice a week via Mentored Pathways’ secure website. The mentor helps the student think about, plan and develop his or her project. And though everything is done electronically, relationships are built.

Carlson said he knows his experience has been well worth it — he can tell in his reviews and thank you letters — and that’s why in just a few short weeks, he’ll team up with his 15th student —  and possibly his 16th because this year’s need is so great, he added.

UCHealth employees interested in being a mentor should follow these steps:

  1. Submit a mentor application by starting here:
  2. Log into your mentor area at
  3. Select “Mentor a Student,” select a project, and then select a student once the students apply.
  4. Start the project with the student. You’ll be guided by the teacher and staff at Mentored Pathways.

Contact David Neils with questions or comments at [email protected] or by calling 970.481.9795. More information at Projects begin as early as Aug. 22.

About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.