Ree Palmer is a driven woman. She won the election this spring to become president of the Student Government Association at Berry College during the 2015-16 academic year.
She is pursuing a double major in history and economics and plans to go on to obtain a master’s degree in public policy. So why in the world does the junior from Cedartown need a mentor?
Palmer is one of 60 Berry College students who have been paired with 15 mentors from across the community in the second year of the Berry College Gordon and Joyce Carper Integrity in Leadership Mentoring Program.
“I had several close friends do this in the pilot year and really got a lot out of the program, so I watched them grow and I really saw how much of a difference it made in their junior and senior year, and I wanted to take advantage of that as well,” Palmer said.
She is one of five students paired with former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Norman Fletcher, who is affiliated with the Brinson, Askew & Berry law firm in Rome.
“They try to pair us with similar career paths,” Palmer said. “We all have interests in the legal field or government work.”
When the pilot project began in the fall of 2013, Fletcher said he was a little leery of the potential time commitment.
“But I agreed to and I had five of the most delightful young people I’ve ever been around,” Fletcher said. He said his second group of students this year was equally impressive.
“I have become very impressed with the quality, not only their academic quality, but also the character of these students,” Fletcher said.
Two of the five students Fletcher mentors have expressed a desire to go on to law school.
Fletcher said he spends time trying to help the students understand the kind of traits that good leaders should have — along with the different styles and approaches to their task that good leaders should have — for their private life, public life and business life.
Palmer said her group of students meets with Fletcher a couple of times a month for an hour or two. “Sometimes we’ll meet in his law office, sometimes in his home or sometimes on campus,” Palmer said.
They do book studies, talk about case studies and ethical issues. “We’ll talk about some of his experiences in cases or ethics in the law,” Palmer said.
Fletcher said the work he does with the students stresses the importance of being well rounded, both at work and at home with family.
“This program is one that really is able to take advantage of the skills that Berry students have and the resources of the community to really bring those together,” Palmer said. “It very much creates a link between the community and Berry as well. It gets students to stretch out.”
The late Gordon Carper and his wife, Joyce, spent the better part of their lives mentoring Berry students. Carper, a faculty member from 1965 to 2003, taught courses in western political philosophy, intellectual history and black culture. Both Carpers served as mentors for the team members while they were enrolled at Berry and for years beyond.
Gordon Carper also served on the Georgia Humanities Council and was a recipient of the Governor’s Award in Humanities.
The mentoring is part of the larger Berry College Integrity in Leadership Center.
Aaron Chastain, a senior majoring in finance, said the center has been an integral part of his learning experience at Berry.
“It has allowed me to learn how to think about real world scenarios from experienced professionals in my field,” Chastain said. “I have been able to learn that the most important aspects of any organizational or general life situation revolve around the people around me and keeping my moral compass set on my ‘true north.’”
Others in the Rome community who are serving as mentors this year include Steve Conrad, retired Social Security Administration district manager; Gayland Cooper, retired superintendent of Rome City Schools; J.R. Davis, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Northwest Georgia; Dr. Melissa Dillmon, an oncologist with Harbin Clinic; Dr. Brad Bushnell, an orthopedic surgeon with Harbin Clinic; Beverly Smith, an accountant and partner with Whittington, Jones and Rudert CPAs; the Rev. Joel Snider, pastor First Baptist Church of Rome; Cecil B. “Buster” Wright III, retired senior managing director and southern regional president of Wells Fargo Advisors; Andy Davis, an attorney with Brinson Askew & Berry, teamed with Willis Potts, retired vice president and general manager of the Temple Inland plant (now International Paper); John Bennett, retired Rome city manager, who is teamed with Wright Bagby Jr., retired businessman and former mayor of Rome; and the team of Anne Kaiser, vice president for economic development at Georgia Power, and Allie Freeman, physician liaison and community outreach manager of Harbin Clinic.
The ultimate goal of the mentoring program is to get a minimum of 200 students meeting regularly with as many as 40 mentors.
Berry College’s Christine Kozelle Reynolds contributed to this report.