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If not for the 11:00 p.m.—and 6:00 a.m., and oh yeah, Christmas Day—telephone conversations with her BEST mentor, Samanta Diaz might not have survived college. But survive she did, and with the maturity that only comes from hard work, determination and honest self-reflection.

“When I was young, I was a drama queen,” she recalls with an easy laugh. “I forever thought I was going to die. I would call Judy at all hours of the day and night, even on Christmas, and I’d say, ‘I’m going to quit school. I’m pulling my hair out. I’m not doing this any more!’

“Judy was always very calm. ‘Listen, Sam,’ she’d say. ‘You have goals, and you know what you have to do. You know it isn’t going to be easy or happen quickly,” Samanta recalls. “She always knew exactly what to say to me. And she was right. I did get over it.”

Still, Samanta says, she cannot overemphasize the influence her mentor had during four particularly challenging years of her life. At the time, Samanta was working full-time while attending Lehigh Carbon Community College, then Penn State-Lehigh Valley. She maintained full-time student status

at the respective colleges by day, then worked the night shift at Lehigh Valley Hospital drawing blood, performing EKGs and other technical duties for which she was specifically trained.

And somehow, amidst classes and papers and exams and household responsibilities and work, she had to find time to meet face-to-face with her mentor. She did it, she says, because Judy wasn’t just her sounding board or a free lunch at Friendly’s; she was the voice of reason when Samanta couldn’t find her way out of issues.

“I have no idea how I came out alive,” Samanta says, looking back on those four chaotic years. “I do know that without Judy`s support, I would not have made it with my sanity intact.”

The confabs over ice cream, not to mention expert time management, eventually paid off for Samanta, who graduated from Penn State and soon got her practical nursing license in two states. She worked for two years in Pennsylvania before moving to Florida, where she now lives. She currently works in risk management, where she identifies trends such as infections and falls in a nursing facility and develops ways to reduce future occurrences. And she still hears from her BEST mentor.

“I really appreciate that three years after I graduated, Judy still keeps in touch with me,’’ Samanta says. “She never misses my birthday. She’s just that nice!”

In fact, Samanta says, Judy’s mentorship was perhaps more valuable to her than even the BEST financial scholarship—which helped defray college costs. So valuable, in fact, that Samanta has agreed to be a mentor for a future nursing student.“Mentors are an important part of student success, so I will be glad to do it,” she says. “I’m not going to be as nice as Judy, though. I won’t be on call 24/7 like she was. Oh, but I do remember how important that was. Maybe [she laughs] I will."

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