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Millsaps Mentors Play Major Role in Graduates’ Careers

Dr. Sarah Richie and Dr. John Sawyer

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Sarah Richie and John Sawyer
Good deeds come in many forms. For Dr. John Sawyer, B.A. 2005, a good deed performed by Dr. Sarah Richie, B.S. 1999, has changed the course of his career.

Sawyer was completing work on a master's degree in marriage and family therapy at the University of Southern Mississippi when he realized he wanted to learn more about neuroscience. "I wanted to know why people were thinking and acting certain ways," he said.

In 2008, he was accepted into a doctoral program in counseling psychology at the University of Memphis. Richie, a neuropsychologist, and Sawyer met when he was assigned to an externship at Methodist LeBonheur Children’s Hospital. Richie supervised several doctoral students in their practicum work as a part of her duties as assistant director of training.

"We started talking about our Millsaps experiences, and established an immediate connection," Sawyer said. "For nine months she was my first supervisor. I was fortunate that she took me under her wing and provided me with direction and mentoring throughout most of my doctoral work."

Today, Sawyer is in his first year of a prestigious two-year clinical neuropsychology fellowship at the Baltimore Veterans Administration Medical Center. The Baltimore VA has one of the largest funded research and development programs in the VA system. The fellowship also includes a cross appointment at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Sawyer credits Richie with getting him off to a good start with his clinical experiences as well as opening doors for him.

"Sarah is a very driven, detailed-oriented professional who is profoundly concerned about her patients," Sawyer said. "She also interned at the Memphis VA Hospital and helped me to get an internship there. My success at the Memphis VA Hospital positioned me to be more competitive in the application process for the fellowship in Baltimore."

Because neuropsychology is a specialized field, there are few fellowships available, according to Sawyer.

"The Baltimore fellowship is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said. "I am working in a state-of-the-art facility with patients with a variety of disorders, including dementia and traumatic brain injuries."

Both alumni are grateful to Millsaps for providing them with a solid foundation for their careers.

"We both appreciate the role Millsaps played in teaching us to think critically, which is so important in determining why people behave certain ways. Each patient is different. We must constantly ask questions and think critically," Sawyer said.

"I give a lot of credit for my advancement to my Millsaps professor, Dr. Kurt Thaw, who provided such engaging instruction in the neuroscience lab my senior year," Richie added. "He was a mentor to me unknowingly and was a fantastic instructor. He always encouraged us to understand the applications of what we were being taught and to reach beyond the proverbial ivory tower."

Both mentor and mentee say the College provided them with another skill critical to their success: writing.

"Writing good clinical reports is critical in the neuropsychology field," Richie said. "I noticed immediately that John had strong writing skills. His reports were fluid and story-like, and they had the essential clinical facts.

"We wrote in every single class at Millsaps, even calculus," she said. "As a result, my writing skills were very strong. While working on my doctorate at the University of Mississippi, my major professor - who was also the department chair - remarked that I was a 'fantastic writer' and invited me to write a book chapter and then several research articles with him. I credited Millsaps and told him my skills were absolutely honed there."

Richie says mentor relationships are beneficial for both parties. "What did I learn from him? He is a voracious reader and was always current on neuropsychology research. He was eager to share articles, often including pertinent information in his reports, which was just outstanding. When you have students like that, you want to share more information with them, and the relationship becomes more collegial than supervisory. You learn from one another."

Sawyer encourages recent Millsaps graduates to not be shy or nervous in networking with other alumni and seeking mentors. "I have found Millsaps graduates to be very active and concerned professionals," the Gulfport native said.

Developing mentor relationships is especially important in rare specialties like neuropsychology, said Richie, who now operates a private practice in Memphis but still maintains affiliations with major hospitals for research projects and other clinical activity.

"It behooves you to recognize who might be able to guide and advise you," she said. "Millsaps offers much more than just academics. Making personal connections and breaking bread with fellow students, faculty, and alumni are important, too."

Sawyer said the old saying "Who you know often can get you in the door ... what you know keeps you there" is especially true for Millsaps graduates.

Tonya Nations, director of the Millsaps College Career Center, said that when she began work at Millsaps eight years ago, "One of the first things I noticed was the willingness of the alumni to help current students and other alumni. They still feel like they are a part of the Millsaps community and are eager to offer their time and resources. When alumni help students and other alumni, it is a good day for Millsaps and a good deed performed for one another!"

To learn more about the resources available for networking and mentoring through the Millsaps College Career Center, please call 601-974-1200 or e-mail Tonya Nations at tonya.nations@millsaps.edu

One of the best sources for networking and establishing mentors is through Major Mentors Networking Program and Millsaps College Alumni Chapters.


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