E2 Mentor VIP Spotlight

The Engage Estrella Mentoring Program (E2) announces Mentor VIPs this academic year. These important figures are EMCC employees who have further contributed to student success through 1-to-1 mentorship for five full cohorts of the E2 program. They provide students with guidance, support and motivation.


Jim Cerven is the program director of Administration of Justice Studies and has been at EMCC for 10 years. His favorite part of mentoring is seeing students achieve their goals. "When you see the student obtain employment, graduate or continue on to university, that is very satisfying. Graduation is the best day of the year. Seeing your mentee walk across that stage, you know you made a difference.”

Being a mentor allows him to see a variety of student struggles, as well as successes, helping him to better assess student needs. Cerven reflected on his most powerful memory as a mentor: "One student was about to quit attending EMCC as she was fed up with things that were happening all at one time in her life,” he said. “I sat down with her and talked. Without that connection of having someone to talk to, she wouldn’t of told anyone and she would’ve quit. A problem sometimes can be settled by simply sitting down for half an hour and talking through it. This is a great example of the mentor program working. This student subsequently graduated."


EMCC alumna Sandra Chavez is currently employed as the administrative assistant to the vice president of Administrative Services. She has worked at EMCC for nine years, and for MCCCD even longer, having spent two years at Phoenix College. Chavez, who loves the networking and socializing aspects of the E2 program, was at first surprised to find that she could be a mentor to EMCC students.

“My fellow coworker, Michael Bartley, was promoting the program,” she said, “and asked me if I was going to mentor students. I wasn’t sure what I could offer them, though.” Bartley reminded Chavez that as a returning student herself, she could provide guidance and leadership for other returning students.

She loves the initial conversations with her mentees that set the foundation for building a strong mentor-to-mentee relationship. “I get to introduce students to the right resources,” Chavez said. “From the vice president’s office, to Advisement or Financial Aid, I provide students a bridge to the offices and people that I know can help them succeed. It’s a win-win.”





​Rene Willekens, dean of Institutional Planning and Research, has seen many changes during his 26 years of employment at the college. One of the things that he finds most satisfactory is students gaining knowledge and abilities through programs that help them be successful. That’s why he is excited about the E2 program. “Seeing students be successful down the road is my favorite part,” he said.

As the program began, it gave Willekens an opportunity to learn new things about the college, so he feels like the program can benefit the mentors as well as the students. He says the college had a mentoring program in the works decades ago, and early on just a few participants. Now, he says, it’s flourishing.

To him, graduation is the best part of the entire experience. “When I shake the hand of a mentee, it is so rewarding.” He adds that unlike normal day-to-day life, it’s a chance to change students’ lives.





Reading faculty Steve Peist has been at EMCC for five years and in the district for ten. When asked what led him to the E2 Mentoring Program, he recalls the challenges he faced when beginning his own college career. “When I was a college freshman, I wasn’t even 18 yet,” he said. “I felt like there was no one to help me. I would speak to a college advisor and it was like ‘here you go, go now, good luck,’ but I could have used more guidance.” He feels that students are the first priority at the Maricopa County Community Colleges. “I care about my students’ lives. I am all in, if this is the goal.”

He appreciates the commitment of those involved in this important program. “The people who are involved have a strong desire to make this a successful program,” he said. “It is designed in a way that gives everyone a specific role; it is a productive relationship for all parties.”

He likes helping students figure out solutions to the challenges they face. “I don’t try to tell them what to do. I provide an ear and offer ideas that help them resolve their issues.” The best part for him, of the entire experience, is commencement. “When I get to see them graduate, that is so rewarding.” He also noted that he keeps in touch with students he has mentored.





Program Director of Teacher Education and Early Childhood Education Rachel Holmes feels like she plays a small role in the success of students she mentors, but it doesn’t make her any less excited. “Their success is my success,” she said.

She was drawn to the program because it’s an opportunity to impact lives and to make a difference. As an education professional, she is empowered when students graduate because they are studying to become teachers. “I still keep in touch with them, and when they contact me to invite me to see their classrooms, it is an amazing feeling.” She loves that the mentors touch their lives and then many of them go on to touch and enhance the lives of others.

Holmes has taught at EMCC for five years, previously working as an adjunct for two years at Phoenix College. She was also recently selected as a 2016-2017 NISOD Award recipient for the college.





Jon Hill is part of EMCC’s Culinary Arts Faculty and has been at EMCC for more than fourteen years. Hill is fond of the program because sharing personal decisions and experiences with them allows them to see how different ideas have come to fruition. “It’s great when you see the growth and excitement in the eyes of a student,” he said. “We aren’t counselors, we’re more like coaches who share our choices with them and give them a chance to look within those choices and the ones they’ll make for themselves.”

One of the reasons Hill got involved with the program was because it gave him an opportunity to expand beyond his own department. “It gave me a broader view of the resources available to students, which was great.”

Hill can’t cite a single experience as a mentor as being the most powerful. “Each one,” he said, “is a powerful experience.” He really likes the talk that occurs after the initial introductions, where the mentee shares where they are, where they’ve been, and what they’re looking to achieve.”You’re opening a new book; they want to hear new ideas. The key is to let them talk and be a good listener. If you really listen to them, you can help lay out ideas for the next 2 semesters.

“I always look forward to meeting with my next mentee. It’s a stair-step process. There is continual growth that keeps it exciting. I can give back knowledge gained throughout my own career.”





Dr. Ernie Lara has been at EMCC for 25 years, and MCCCD for 36. As the college president with a busy schedule, Lara likes mentoring because it puts him in direct contact with the students. “It gives me a chance to find out directly what their experience is like. It also puts me back at what I was doing before – advising.” He likes the opportunity this gives him to find out what is working, and not working, around the campus.

He understands how valuable the program is in helping students be engaged, from helping them find where they need to be, to engaging in various aspects of the culture. He reflects on his own experience being a mentee. “The person that mentored me at ASU really believed in me,” he said. “She always told me that she was certain I’d complete my doctorate. Her words are something I take with me into my time as a mentor.”

He doesn’t let that busy schedule get in the way. “No matter how busy we are, we can always take the time to help students succeed.”





As of  March 2017, Dr. Tanisha Johnson-Maxwell has left her position at EMCC as a Student Affairs administrator, to become the Interim Vice President of Student Affairs at PVCC. During her time at EMCC, she participated in the E2 Mentoring Program, after being involved in coordinating the Peer Mentor Program. Watching students grow is her favorite part about the mentorship process. “I keep in touch with mentees,” she said. “That they want me to know about them, and take the time to fill me in on their lives, is very rewarding.”

Johnson-Maxwell finds the program energizing and equally as valuable to herself as it is to the students. “I learn something each time, as no mentoring experience is the same. It is such a great way to connect with students, helping them to achieve their dreams.”

Johnson-Maxwell says one of her most powerful mentorship experiences happened in 2014 when a mentee, who was a psychology major, told her that she didn’t think she needed school. Johnson-Maxwell convinced her to stick it out for one month and get her associate degree. “She wanted to continue on to the Honors College at ASU, so I gave her guidance through that application process.” It worked out well; the student was accepted to the program. “Recently, she contacted me because she is going to be defending her Honors thesis and wanted me to be there, to see what’s she’s accomplished and how I have impacted her life.”


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