Ryan Secord developed an interest in engineering early in his teen years.
But he couldn’t quite figure out how to pursue it beyond something he liked.
Then along came a mentor.
As a Dawes Middle School seventh-grader, Secord was matched with Gerald — or “Hoot” as Secord called him — through the TeamMates Mentoring Program. Started in 1991 by Tom and Nancy Osborne, the school-based program matches students with mentors who meet one hour each week.
Hoot was a natural fit for Secord: a retired civil engineer who shared stories of working for the Civilian Conservation Corps, building dams in the Cold War for the Czechoslovakian government and handling nuclear missiles on a military base in Greenland.
The aspiring engineer was intrigued.
“He helped indulge in my science interests, talking about the logistics behind sending people to Mars,” Secord recalled.
They spent summers working on projects like constructing a cardboard chair, a Michelangelo-inspired wooden ornithopter and a model cannon.
When high school came along, Secord’s interest in engineering lessened but his relationship with Hoot continued to strengthen.
“I think people undervalue how important it is to have stability in your life, so even having that one person who shows up every week is amazing,” said Secord. “That sense of stability is maybe the most important thing to good growth, both as a person and academically.
Hoot was a sounding board as Secord transferred high schools and started to make plans for college. Hoot reflected on his own college experience at Nebraska Wesleyan University, recalling its personal attention and academics. He suggested to Secord that NWU might be a good fit for him, too.
Today, Secord is a first-year student at NWU where he is exploring social sciences. He was awarded a Nebraska Wesleyan TeamMates Scholarship, which provides financial assistance to qualified TeamMates mentees who enroll at NWU.
Secord said his relationship with his mentor ran both ways. He recalled Hoot’s unexpected injury and health issues a few years ago and how he made every effort to visit him at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital.
Now with Secord’s busy college schedule, he said phone calls come more often than visits.
“From the hustle and bustle of college, I don’t get to see or talk to him as much as I’d like to,” said Secord. “He’s a really good sport though because he understands.”
Included in Secord’s busy schedule are speaking engagements where he shares his TeamMates experience.
And one day he hopes it comes full circle.
“With my current schedule, I’m not sure in good faith that right now I could give a kid the attention he deserves, but in the future, I believe I’ll be good at mentoring based on my own experience,” said Secord. “It has helped me become a better person. It’s really the little things that make you a complete person, all the little experiences.”
—Story by Danielle Anderson, public relations intern