By Raymond Jones

J’den Williams was a remarkably talented student in high school. When it came time to apply to colleges, however, she limited herself to a rather narrow range of choices.

J’den (pronounced “jayden”) and her younger sister Jayde were born roughly a dozen years apart. As a result of her quasi-parental relationship with Jayde, Williams didn’t want to venture too far away from the family home in Wake Forest.

So, having grown up with a strong interest in STEM subjects, Williams was drawn somewhat naturally to NC State. Entering the university in 2012 she never looked back, earning a bachelor’s degree in fashion and textile management (FTM), a master’s degree in textiles and a Ph.D. in textile technology management.

While such credentials might suggest “bookworm,” Williams’ extracurricular activities were so numerous – and so diverse – that simply reviewing the entire list might induce exhaustion in a casual reader.

Despite her long history as a high-achiever, however, she approached the end point in her doctoral program with certain anxieties. They were the same anxieties that confront so many other graduating students: wondering what to do next.

Williams decided to channel that apprehension into positive energy. She used her position as graduate student representative on the Dean’s Young Alumni Leadership Council (DYALC) to lobby for a mentorship program.

The idea was readily accepted, and staff member Tim Creedon was selected to nurture the startup. Creedon, a development coordinator for the North Carolina Textile Foundation, had just taken that position after two years working in campus ministry. “My new ‘ministry’ at the foundation proved to be an excellent match,” he says. “In my previous job I’d learned a lot about how to get students organized.”

Creedon worked closely with Williams to get the mentorship effort up and running. It started as a four-month-long pilot program in January 2020, with 11 graduate students and seven young alumni.

Creedon had an opportunity to sit in on one of the first mentor-mentee meetings, held in a campus coffee shop in early spring. It turned out to be the first and last time he would  participate in such a face-to-face meeting. The university went into shutdown mode just a few days later, and communications went virtual.

“In retrospect,” he says, “a case could have been made to abort the launch and wait for a time when we could have in-person interactions as well as just online communications. The sticking point, however, was that J’den and a lot of her fellow students needed help right then, not at some unspecified future time.”

Creedon is happy now there was a strong consensus to move ahead. By the time the fall semester drew to a close, the program had grown to include 60 alumni volunteers (up from seven) and 65 students (up from 11).

One big reason for the growth spurt was a decision to open the program up to seniors as well as graduate students. Also, despite COVID limitations, the process of recruiting young alumni proved to be easier than expected. 

“Almost everyone said the same thing,” Creedon recalls. “They all wished this type of program had existed when they were students.”

Indeed, many alumni went above and beyond expectations. One mentor, for example, invited her student to shadow her at a major trade show that went on as scheduled, despite travel constraints. Another student benefited from the opportunity to participate in a national organization that promotes leadership opportunities for women in the textile industry.

“The stories that emerged from the first year of activity validated the family atmosphere that the dean (Dr. David Hinks) has tried so hard to nurture,” Creedon says. “A lot of long-term relationships were formed that went well beyond the immediate needs of students conducting a job search.”

Creedon doesn’t see big changes ahead when the program re-activates this fall. He’s eager, however, to come up with a new name. 

“The ‘Wilson College Mentorship Program’ is a mouthful,” he says. “I’d like to rebrand it simply as ‘Blend’ – something that signifies the melding of two or more types of fibers into a single fabric.”

Williams looks forward to “blending” with Wilson College students now that she’s a graduate. She says her first mentor, Jessica Couch, fueled her passion for entrepreneurship and helped her to expand her network. That assistance was invaluable as she sought and landed her first job as a “product insights researcher” at Target.

“The Wilson College has always been my home away from home,” she says. “I can’t wait for an opportunity to give back, given all the support I received from the time I first set foot on campus.” 

Mentor a Student, Make an Impact

If you are interested in participating in the Blend program this upcoming year, please reach out to Tim Creedon at dacreedo@ncsu.edu.