BETHANY, W.Va. – The first semester of college can be a tough time for many young adults, but a Bethany College mentorship program is smoothing the transition for students.

The Ponton Mentors are celebrating 100 percent retention of participating freshmen to the spring semester.

The program assigns students with a trained mentor who helps them navigate the academic and social atmosphere at Bethany.

“The goal of the mentor is to get the first-year students to feel connected in a way that only other students can,” said Dr. Diane Snyder, the assistant professor of psychology and department chair who oversees the program.

The program has about 30 freshmen, mostly minorities, assigned to 20 mentors. The freshmen who are assigned mentors are referred to the program by coaches, faculty, and staff.


The idea for what is now the Ponton Mentors originated with students Jada Epps, Michael Springer-Ingram, and Majied Bey, who all graduated from Bethany in 2018. All were minority students who recognized that the retention and graduation rates of their peers weren’t what they could be, said R. Darryl Ponton ’68, a semi-retired Pittsburgh lawyer and Bethany emeritus trustee who supports and lends his name to the program.

Snyder credits student adviser Charles “Chas” Blango, a senior communications major, for much of the program’s success this year.

“He’s meant the world to the program because the students relate to him,” she said.

And Blango also can relate to struggling students. As a freshman, he was suspended from the college for his academic performance.

He speaks openly of monitoring his parents’ mailbox so they wouldn’t see the letter. He appealed his suspension with the support of some faculty on campus, and the college allowed him to return immediately as long as he agreed to meet with a student mentor.

Blango said the experience taught him to grow up and to pay more attention to his grades. As a junior, Blango received the R. Darryl Ponton Student Leadership Award.

“I tell them all the stupid [stuff] I did,” he said of the two students he mentors. “I can relate to the good, the bad and the ugly.”

Mentors commit to the program for an entire year and they receive credit hours for taking a class that teaches them such skills as empathy and how to listen.

Snyder said the matches between mentor and mentee are made early in the semester.

“It’s awkward at first, but it really grows,” she said. “Some of them become incredibly bonded. … The longer the program is here, I think we will see more of those relationships.”

Blango, for example, is still in contact with Springer-Ingram, who served as his mentor.

This year, Blango mentors two fellow football teammates; one of them also pledged Blango’s fraternity, Alpha Sigma Phi.

The mentor-mentee interactions can be as simple as meeting for a meal or studying together, Snyder said.

In addition to the one-on-one interaction between the students, the program also plans group social and educational events such as movie nights, trips to Pittsburgh, and information sessions on course scheduling and financial aid, Snyder said.

Blango says it’s important for the students to have a successful alumnus such as Ponton to emulate.

“My role in many respects is to be a graduate who has been somewhat successful who more or less started from the same place as many of the first-generation students who came from a modest background,” Ponton said. “… I think everyone needs someone to look up to.”

Former Bethany Senior Vice President of Institutional Advancement Sven de Jong introduced Ponton to the program, and he now meets with the students a few times a year.

Ponton understands the challenges facing minority students on campus; when he arrived at Bethany in the 1960s, he said he was the only black student on a campus in a state that was “basically segregated.”

He describes the challenges of isolation and culture shock and persevering on his own. The mentoring program offers a support system that he didn’t have.

It’s a credit to the founding mentors that they left in place a legacy that ensures it continues even in their absence, Ponton said. Several former mentees have taken on mentor roles.

“I think the program is successful because it was designed for students by students,” Ponton said. “The people who were mentees will testify they were immensely benefited by the program and they are committed to paying that forward.”

The experience also ensures that the participants remain connected to Bethany, which he said provides long-term benefits for the college.

“I’m just thankful that the faculty and staff and President [Tamara Nichols] Rodenberg and [Provost] Joe Lane have been supportive,” he said. “Diane Snyder has done a tremendous job in leading the program. Without a doubt, she has been the key person in keeping the program moving forward.”


Bethany College, founded in 1840, is the oldest private college in West Virginia. The Bethany experience focuses on academic excellence in the area of liberal arts and prepares students for a lifetime of work and a life of significance.