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Guidance through a pandemic: Dan Thomas

Bell National Resource Center programs create an expansive network of mentors.

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Ohio State student Mike Hull talks with his mentor Daniel Thomas

Dan Thomas (left), program director at the Bell National Resource Center, speaks with student Mike Hull. Thomas provided important mentorship to Hull when the Louisiana native arrived at Ohio State.

When Mike Hull left his home in New Orleans in the summer of 2018 to study at Ohio State, he didn’t know anyone in the Midwest. That same summer, Tim Hinton arrived on campus feeling unsure of his abilities and facing esteem issues.

Three years later, these students now hold multiple leadership positions on campus. Their growth began by participating in the Bell National Resource Center’s Early Arrival Program, which introduced them to a Black male community including faculty and peer mentors who put them on strong footing for their collegiate careers.

Tim Hinton

Tim Hinton

“As an African American, having that program to introduce me to people who look like me was extremely important,” said Hinton, a psychology major. “And the individuals they put us in front of, like Dr. (James) Moore and Dan Thomas, it was vital in my transition to college.”

Because of COVID-19 protocols in 2020-21, many of the BNRC programs were online or hybrid, but were never shut down because of how critical they are to the Black male community on campus.

“It’s been challenging but it’s been important for us to do all we can to engage our students, to ensure they know there’s someone at the university who cares about them and their success,” said Thomas, BNRC’s program director.

“Mentoring should be a collective effort. It doesn’t just have to come from the faculty or staff,” he said. “It’s important to identify and establish peer-to-peer relationships, regardless of being in-person or hybrid. These partnerships need to be established and maintained to ensure a student’s success moving forward.”

Thomas’ relationships with Hull and Hinton are the perfect example. As he’s mentored them, they’ve gone on to mentor many others on campus. As sophomores, Hull and Hinton both became Early Arrival Program ambassadors, served as mentors for freshmen and identified other ways to mentor in their own right.

“This year has been a completely different experience, and it requires mentors to be even more of a necessity because a lot goes on in your mind,” said Hull, a junior marketing major who meets biweekly with Thomas. “For me, it’s about being accessible and able to hear people out whenever they need it.

“It’s not about what you do here; it’s about who you impact. Building these relationships is my way of showing love for all the people I’ve encountered here.”

Hull mentors students not only through BNRC but as a resident advisor for Scholars Housing and  a squad leader in the ROTC program. Providing human interaction has been deeply important to him this year to help others’ mental health, whether that’s through FaceTime calls or safe one-on-one chats when possible.

“You need someone you can share your feelings with and who can give you wisdom,” Hull said. “Mr. Dan and I talk about this all the time. It’s hard to form bonds online but if you can share wisdom that captivates people to want to reach out to you.”

Hinton said learning and receiving that wisdom is exactly why he continues to chase mentorship relationships, whether in-person or online. He said a lot of opportunities, such as scholarships and career-oriented connections, have come from his mentors.

His mentors also keep him moving forward on goals, two of which came to fruition this year when he created two programs — The Black Wellness Initiative and the Black Humanities organization — aimed at supporting Ohio State’s Black community.

“Mentorship has always kept me grounded in my purpose and reminded me why I’m doing what I do,” Hinton said. “(Thomas) has helped direct me down a great path, helping me think through things on a deeper perspective.”

Along with working as a BNRC student ambassador, Hinton became a First-Year Experience Peer Leader. This past summer, he also mentored for BNRC’s Ubuntu Leadership Academy to support African American males in grades 9 to 11 in Columbus.

“It was all online but it was still amazing,” Hinton said. “They’re meeting entrepreneurs and plant scientists, football players and motivational speakers — a vast group of professionals from the Black community to show all the wonderful things they can do in life.

“Black high school students can have very difficult backgrounds, and being able to know they can rise above all the expectations and limitations that people have placed on them is extremely important.”