From the basketball court to life after college

Mentor program contributes to personal growth of team members

| Author: Eric Baerren | Media Contact: Aaron Mills

There’s a framed picture hanging behind Jodi Brookins Fisher’s desk that reads, “Empowered women empower women.”

It’s the essence of a mentoring program – of which Brookins Fisher, a CMU Public Health professor, is a participant – that aims to make more complete women out of Central Michigan University’s women’s basketball athletes.

CMU's women's basketball coach Kristin Haynie wearing a checked blazer over a black blouse for a professional headshot on a gray background.
Kristin Haynie

Players “come in as teenagers, leave as young adults,” said Kristin Haynie, the team’s head coach.

Mentors cheer the team as it plays. They also offer an ear and counsel to help players solve problems and make decisions.

“It’s not always about basketball,” said Shelly Millis, an administrator with Montabella Community Schools and who is mentoring Tiana Timpe. “It’s about life as a student, and a young adult.”

The mentors are women from the greater mid-Michigan community. They are paired with athletes on the team and provide them with support and guidance with life outside basketball, and beyond it.

“A lot of athletes … we don’t know what’s next,” said Rochelle Norris, a senior from near Fredericksburg in Stafford County, Va. “It’s a big question mark.”

Norris came to Mount Pleasant from northern Virginia after playing at West Virginia University and Virginia Technical University. It required a lot of adjustments moving from the Middle Atlantic to the Midwest. Plus, everything is smaller.

“Stafford County is small,” she said. “Fredericksburg is small. Mount Pleasant is even smaller.”

Smaller also offers the opportunity for stronger personal connections. Nadége Jean, a graduate student from Richton Park, Ill., said it makes CMU stand out.

“The relationships here are a lot more personal,” Jean said. At another program she played at, the resources existed but the personal touch didn’t. “At CMU, I feel like we focus more on the relationship part.”

Brookins Fisher mentors both women. They call her “the mayor of Mount Pleasant” or just “Miss Jodi.”

She’s always at courtside, cheering the team on, both women said. She also helps off the court by offering an ear, a home-cooked meal and advice. When Jean had trouble finding housing, help was a phone call to Miss Jodi away, she said.

Brookins Fisher has mentored students since the program’s first year in 2015. This year, she helped organize it and implement a new twist that Haynie requested.

Athletes were paired with mentors with whom they share something in common. Mentors were asked to focus on an area that Haynie said she felt the athlete could grow in. Mentors of team leaders were asked to focus on helping develop qualities to help that, for instance.

The program provides support for student-athletes and helps fulfill the team’s goal of helping its players transition from student to adult. Mentors get the satisfaction of helping the university in a way that directly benefits students.

“I always want to give back to the university in a way that you can actually see the impacts,” said Heather Jensen, a CMU alumnus who now teaches in Clare County’s Harrison Community Schools.

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