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Strong Bond Between Mentor and Student Leads to New Opportunities and New Dreams

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“When Elijah does a story, he asks all the right questions and leaves no stone unturned. He will not leave a situation until he has all the facts. I’ve never seen drive or talent like I’ve seen in him. From the minute I met him, seeing his drive, I was impressed with how he’s laid out his career path, and he’s right on the money. He knows what he has to do, and how he has to do it, to make it in TV news.”

That is how Jim Forbes – the new Institute on Political Journalism (IPJ) Board of Visitors chair, speaker and active mentor with TFAS programs – describes Elijah Baker (IPJ 16), a 2016 alumnus of IPJ and Forbes’ first TFAS mentee. Forbes and Baker are a mentor/mentee match made in heaven and the two share a passion for the television news field.

Working for him was just a blast! Who doesn’t want to work for their mentor?”
– Elijah Baker (IPJ 16), mentee

Jim Forbes is the director of communications for the nonprofit Prison Fellowship, which supports incarcerated people and their families as they make efforts to rehabilitate and rejoin society. Forbes’ Prison Fellowship position is relatively new, however – over the course of his career, he has taught college, worked in communications on Capitol Hill and worked in broadcast journalism.

Elijah at Press Club
Baker and his classmates attend an awards ceremony at the National Press Club in 2016.

Elijah Baker is a senior at Wayne State University in Detroit. He began his college career working toward a degree in criminal justice when he discovered his greater passion was in TV news. That realization led him to a junior-year switch in majors, then into a demanding accelerated journalism program, the Journalism Institute for Media Diversity.

The two men felt an instant connection when TFAS staff matched them as mentor and mentee for the 2016 summer programs, while Baker was in IPJ. Baker speaks of his relationship with Forbes as “one of the greatest blessings of my life.” He said, “The first conversation we had, Jim asked, ‘Elijah, what do you want?’ I said, ‘I don’t want to shrink. I don’t want someone I just report to once a week about my problems and at the end of the summer we go our separate ways and I just move on.’” Just as he had hoped, Baker found Forbes to be a mentor who would invest deeply in helping him grow. Over the course of the summer, the two would become like family.

I try to do as much as I can with my mentees socially, just to get to know them and their other interests.”
– Jim Forbes, TFAS mentor

Forbes has been the director of communications at Prison Fellowship for just over a year. He previously worked as the director of communications for two members of Congress and for the Committee on House Administration, while teaching on the side at Bethany College and Wheeling Jesuit University. Prior to that, he worked in TV news for 28 years. He enjoyed working in broadcast journalism before making the switch to government communications. He also looks back fondly on his years teaching and still feels the drive to educate young people – which led him to seek out involvement with the TFAS mentorship program.

Jim guest speaking 2016
Forbes shares his experiences in broadcast news and government communications with Institute on Political Journalism (IPJ) 2016 students.

While working on the Hill, Forbes became acquainted with a TFAS staff member who, hearing about his impressive career, invited him to share his work experiences with TFAS students as a guest speaker. Forbes agreed and enjoyed the chance to share with young people so much, he asked how he could become more involved.

Over the course of a few years, he spoke multiple times, delivering the keynote address at a closing ceremony in 2015 and the 2016 IPJ opening lecture. In 2017, he also stepped into a leadership role as the chair of the IPJ Board of Visitors, the advisory body that assists in planning and fundraising for the program and offers support with guest lecturers and internship placement.

The same summer Forbes delivered the IPJ opening remarks, he volunteered for the first time as a TFAS mentor.

“They bless me just as much as I influence them,” he said of his experience mentoring. “[As a mentor] you’re helping shape these young lives to become great leaders.”

From Mentee to Intern

From the beginning, Forbes saw success ahead for Baker because of his motivation, leadership qualities and thoroughness. He was so impressed with Baker during the summer of 2016 that he asked him to come back to Washington the following summer and intern with Forbes’ own organization, Prison Fellowship, where he was the newly hired director of communications.

Elijah with classmates
Baker and his 2016 summer programs classmates enjoy a visit to the Capitol Building.

Forbes knew Baker was trying to make his final decision whether to pursue broadcast journalism or communications and public relations, so he offered Baker a deeper look at the communications field. For Baker, it was a dream opportunity to garner valuable experience and understanding of the field, plus put another internship on his resume, all while spending more time with his mentor.

“I made a promise to myself when I switched my major; I wanted to get experience in the news world and corporate communications,” Baker said. “Jim allowed me to get that experience and he’s been very supportive from day one in me having that experience. Working for him was just a blast! Who doesn’t want to work for their mentor?”

I’m going to watch him blossom in this industry….He’s got what it takes.”
– Jim Forbes

At Prison Fellowship, Baker created media contact lists, interviewed religious leaders, interacted with the press at events and even visited a prison to see the work of Prison Fellowship firsthand. He also helped shoot, produce and edit one of the organization’s videos – which was in line with his studies of broadcast journalism at Wayne State.

Jim and Elijah at IPJ Closing
Baker shows off his TFAS graduation certificate after the IPJ 2016 Closing Ceremony. Forbes made sure he was there to witness his mentee’s proud moment.

Forbes also gave Baker larger projects, such as directing an intern all-staff meeting and conducting a content analysis of Prison Fellowship’s social media platforms with another intern – which led to a more effective social media program.

When Forbes decided Prison Fellowship needed a regular newsletter to send out to members of the media, he assigned the project of designing it to Baker with great confidence. Baker set to work researching designs and best-practices for newsletters and created the template from scratch. It was a moment of triumph for Baker when one of the Prison Fellowship web designers brought what he had created to life.

“Everyone said they really liked the newsletter I designed,” Baker recalled. “Jim trusted me, my professionalism and the knowledge that I had about the internet, social media and newsletters.”

While Baker was gaining more and more confidence in his work, Forbes was growing more and more impressed. He said, “I gave him projects to do and he always carried them out, and they were very well done.

“Everybody could see what I saw, when they got to know him,” Forbes continued. “Our CEO took a special liking to him, because he saw that drive in him. Every time Elijah saw our CEO, he would ask questions and be very open with him. Our CEO said, ‘I really like that guy.’”

Jim Elijah Shermichael Singleton of CNN
Eager to open doors for Baker, Forbes introduces him to a contact in the TV news field, Shermichael Singleton, a political commentator on CNN.

While Baker thoroughly enjoyed his time at Prison Fellowship, the most valuable lesson he learned was that television news was the vocation he wanted to pursue; it ignited his passion even more than corporate and nonprofit communications had.

“I’m really grateful I started interning for Prison Fellowship,” said Baker, “because, even when I was in TFAS, I thought I wanted to go into PR – and even before, when I was working in a communications department at a health insurance company in Michigan. Interning for Jim showed me I want ultimately to go into broadcast news. Had I not had that experience, I wouldn’t have known, because I needed another experience to show me what I wanted to do.”

“I’m going to watch him blossom in this industry,” Forbes said. “Being in TV news is very difficult. It’s a hard thing to get into and you start off making horrible money. If you really, really want to do it that badly and you’re willing to suffer through the years of making low wages, one of these days, you will do well. He’s got what it takes.”

Relationships That Last a Lifetime

Elijah clicking his heels for graduation
Baker readies himself for his December graduation from Wayne State University with characteristic energy.

Forbes’ and Baker’s parting at the end of the summer was a fond one, but both men had the guarantee their mentoring relationship and friendship would remain strong and well-tended. Baker continues to send demo recordings from his journalism coursework to Forbes for critiquing. Forbes has visited Baker at home in Michigan and has already made plans for his next visit – to watch Baker graduate this month.

Baker is now finishing his journalism program and is set to graduate Dec. 12, ready to forge his path in TV journalism, using the skills and knowledge he built in the Wayne State Journalism program and the TFAS Institute on Political Journalism.

Forbes has also formed a bond of friendship with his two subsequent mentees, José Montoya (IPJ 17) and Jon Cantalini (CSF 17), who is a current Capital Semester student and was selected to deliver remarks on his TFAS experience at the Capital Semester Fall 2017 Closing Ceremony on Dec. 7.

“José and I found a lot of common ground, as well,” Forbes said. “He’s a big college basketball fan and I am, too. He’s the first in his family to go to college, so he has pride in that and in being able to go to TFAS.

Jim and Jose Montoya
Forbes and José Montoya, his second mentee, spend time talking about Montoya’s goals at the 2017 summer mentor breakfast.

Jon is so driven and intelligent. He’s from the state of Washington and is involved in Republican politics. I saw him at a TFAS event recently. I try to do as much as I can with my mentees socially, just to get to know them and their other interests.”

Forbes has enjoyed his role as a mentor so much, and has seen how much it benefits the young mentees like Baker, Montoya and Cantalini, that he recommends the TFAS mentoring program every chance he has.

“I would encourage other people reading this who either are mentors or are thinking of becoming mentors to just do it, and to really do it right, because the more you put into it, the more you’re going to get out of it.”

To learn more about how you can serve as a TFAS mentor, internship sponsor or guest speaker, visit www.TFAS.org/Volunteer.

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