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Mason Grad and Scholarship Recipient Gives Back Through Mentorship

Mariana Cruz, BS CEIE ‘11, said she came to George Mason University because it was too good a deal to pass up. The scholarship she received for four years not only paid for her tuition, but it also gave her unprecedented access.

“Within a week of arriving on campus, I was speaking at a scholarship luncheon telling my story to faculty, students, and alumni,” said Cruz. She was encouraged to take advantage of all that Mason had to offer. She traveled to her native country Peru with Engineers for International Development, served as a peer mentor, became active in the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP), and student research.

As an alumna, she continues to stay involved with the school formally by serving on the alumni board and informally by mentoring students.

“I realize not all students have the kind of access and encouragement that I had, so I wanted to do something to support and guide them. Mentoring is a great way to do that,” said Cruz.

Mentoring one student can be a daunting task for some, but Cruz finds it so energizing that she now has three mentees. Each came to her by a different path, but all share their respect and admiration for their mentor.

Jackeline Gastelo, a first-year master’s student connect with Cruz through professor Girum Urguessa, who asked her if she knew anyone at Mason from her country Peru. When she said no, he put her in touch with Cruz. Gastelo has been working with her since February 2018. Cruz encouraged her to pursue student research, and helped her improve her resume.

“Mariana is willing to listen, and always gives good pieces of advice and recommendations. I maintain the contact with her and let her knows my situation at university and if I have problems, I know she always is there to help me,” said Gastelo.

Alumnus Rafael Reynoso met Kirsten Horn at a Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers event and introduced her to Cruz.

“The best advice she has given me was in regards to applying for internships,” said Horn. “She gave a lot of tips to help me, and reassurance that I would find something. Her guidance and support was extremely helpful during that time. She is a great listener, and also seems to always know exactly what to say.”

Edson Contrina, who was born in Lima, Peru, met Mariana when he was in 7th grade. Their families knew each other, so when he was looking for a mentor, Mariana was top of mind.

Contrina remembers playing soccer with Cruz and talking about school. “She asked me questions and gave me advice,” said Cotrina. The families lost touch for a while but Cotrina’s mother reconnected with Cruz’s mother who said her daughter went to Mason for her bachelor’s degree.

“I reached out to her because I had so many questions about the career path I was taking and how it was like to be a first-generation student,” said Contrina. “I didn't intend to ask her to be my mentor at first. I never thought I could have a mentor but after talking to her over coffee she just seemed to be the perfect person for me to talk to if I ever needed advice or help.”

Their friendship continues on the soccer field as the two Peruvians play in the same adult soccer league.

One of the aspects about mentoring that Cruz emphasizes is the two-way partnership. “Lots of mentors think that the mentee should initiate contact,” said Cruz. “I believe the mentor needs to be just as actively involved as the mentee. If I don’t hear anything for several weeks, I will reach out.”

September 14, 2018 / Adapted from a story by Marsha Bushong on volgenau.gmu.edu