May 19-25, 2000
Back Issues
Sullivan Award winners show deep commitment to caring
Here's the youngest 'Hoo
Wagner exemplifies value of mentoring

Rector unearths love for human evolution

Dyslexia forced graduate to create own path for success
Boiler passes a special test
Already a pioneering online journalist, graduate plans to take on TV reporting
Student's mentoring program takes root
Medical student with passion for public health earns second master's degree
Groundskeeper has watched U.Va. and its landscape grow
Help wanted: not just for high-tech fields, but for teaching jobs, too
BUCKS' vision to give back to community will continue
Watson discovers teaching and takes history to the Web
Seeing double
Heard's degree painted with broad strokes
May graduate's dream shows how education transforms lives

Wagner exemplifies value of mentoring

By Ida Lee Wootten

Lavar Wagner
Stephanie Gross
Lavar Wagner

Mentoring's life-saving potential is obvious to Lavar Wagner as he remembers the friends he grew up with in Bedford-Stuyvesent, the poverty-stricken area of Brooklyn that is one of the most danger- ous in New York City. None of them completed or even attended college; many are dealing drugs, and all still walk the neighborhood streets, at risk of being robbed or killed daily.

Wagner, who graduates this week from the McIntire School of Commerce, made a new life for himself. Thanks to a good job and a hefty signing bonus, he also plans to give a new life to his single mother, his sister and her 3-year-old daughter when he pays for their move out of their overcrowded apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesent to a safer neighborhood.

Wagner, now 21, was able to visualize a world outside the slums because a mentor from the Morgan Stanley investment firm (now Morgan Stanley Dean Witter) encouraged him to consider college and the business field. As part of the mentoring program, Wagner spent time in an office, where he saw the stimulating mix of computers and business. "I discovered I had a natural passion for technology and the business world," he said.

The mentor assisted him in selecting college preparatory courses, studying for the Scholastic Aptitude Tests and instilling in him the will to succeed. After graduating as the valedictorian of his class at Chelsea High School in New York City in 1996, Wagner entered U.Va. with a variety of scholarships and financial aid packages and pursued a double major in management and management information systems.

Although he doesn't feel safe in his old neighborhood -- someone recently pulled a gun on him in his mother's apartment building -- Wagner has made a point of returning to his high school to preach the value of higher education. He has also mentored other students through U.Va.'s Peer Advisors Program, which matches upperclass minority students to new minority students. In addition to advising as many as six students a year through that program, he has served as a mentor every Wednesday at Fifeville's Youth Alive Center, a service project of his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi. He was also a member of the resident staff of Gooch dormitory, where he interacted with dozens of students daily.

"I feel it's important to give something back, both to the University community and to my hometown. I hope I show students that you can face obstacles and still persevere," he said.

"Lavar has shown me that anyone from anywhere can make it and succeed at anything they put their mind to," said U.Va. student Joe Berhan, a psychology major who regards Wagner as his role model. "I lived with Lavar during our second and third years, and I do not know of anybody who could lock themselves in their rooms and work all Friday and Saturday nights like he did."

For Wagner, who has served as president of his fraternity chapter and the Black Commerce Student Network, one course at U.Va. stands out as his favorite. "Multicultural Education," taught by Curry School associate professor Robert Covert, "should be required for every student," he said. "It takes aspects of every individual's life and brings them out into the open. Such an experience fosters better communication and trust. It promotes bonding. I want to carry that approach with me into the corporate world."

He entertained several job offers before choosing a position in information technology consulting with PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York City. Despite the fact that Wagner won't start until August, his mother, a telephone operator, has begun researching new homes in better sections of Brooklyn or Queens.

Wagner, who one day hopes to be the head of his own firm, says he has two central goals after moving his family to a safer place. "I want to feel comfortable financially, and I don't want to feel like I have to watch my back -- to hustle -- all the time. I want to be at peace."

See press release on Graduate Exemplifies Value of Mentoring


© Copyright 2000 by the Rector and Visitors
of the University of Virginia

UVa Home Page UVa Events Calendar Top News UVa Home Page