Rylee Barfield (left) connected with her mentor, LeLoni Smith, early on in her undergraduate experience. (Photos: submitted. Graphic: Jackson Schroeder)
UGA Mentor Program Profile: Rylee Barfield and LeLoni Smith
It didn’t take long for recent graduate Rylee Barfield (AB ‘22) to experience the value of a good mentor. During her first week at UGA, eager to enter the field of entertainment, Barfield was seeking guidance to help her navigate the then-unfamiliar industry. When a friend in the introduction to Entertainment and Media Studies class mentioned the UGA Mentor Program, Barfield was immediately intrigued.
Soon after, Barfield applied to be the mentee of LeLoni Smith (ABJ ‘14), an independent producer who, from 2018 to 2022, worked for Netflix, first as a creative assistant on the Netflix Original Documentary team and then as manager on the Netflix Documentary Films team.
The UGA Mentor Program is a student-centered online platform that allows students to form long-lasting mentoring relationships, regardless of geographic location. Students can also utilize the Quick Chat function to briefly meet with UGA mentors, including alumni, faculty and staff, for informational interviews that can help make their futures a bit clearer.
Below are two Q&As, first with Barfield, followed by another with Smith, about their mentoring relationship through the UGA Mentor Program. The text has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
A conversation with Rylee Barfield
GC: Tell us about yourself.
I graduated in the Fall of 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in Entertainment and Media Studies and a minor in Korean Language and Culture. I’m currently in the process of getting a visa to work in Seoul, South Korea. I want to live and work there in the entertainment industry, but I will teach English until I become more comfortable with the language.
RB: What inspired you to participate in the UGA Mentor Program?
In my first week at UGA, I took the intro class to EMST and made a friend who recommended the mentorship program. I think the entertainment industry felt rather daunting at first and impossible to make connections in, so the UGA Mentor Program was the perfect thing for me at that time. I wanted to talk to someone who had been in my shoes and could help me navigate an unfamiliar industry. I wanted someone who I could ask questions to and learn from.
GC: What drew you to select LeLoni Smith as your mentor?
RB: I just really wanted to be doing what LeLoni did when I graduated, so I decided to apply to be her mentee. First of all, she had the most stacked profile/resume. I was worried she actually wouldn’t select me. She was truly impressive and seemed like the coolest woman. LeLoni was working at Netflix at the time, which interested me, and was producing, which is my dream job. So she checked every box of mentorship I could ever want! It’s a gamble when choosing a mentor because you don’t know what their personality or interest will be, and you truly want to develop a relationship and feel like friends. However, I was fortunate to get LeLoni because she is very kind and personable.
GC: What does this mentorship consist of? How often do you speak and what do those conversations sound like?
RB: Our first call was longer and focused on getting to know each other. I learned about LeLoni’s journey to be where she is now. Then we talked about what I wanted from the mentorship, and at the time I really wanted guidance and someone I could bounce different questions off of. So we decided to meet monthly over Zoom and email regularly. LeLoni helped me create my resume, and I still use the template today! She helped me narrow down my experiences and show my strengths most effectively. LeLoni helped me to understand what it’s like to work at a global entertainment company, what it took to get there, and how I could start taking steps in that direction.
GC: What has been the most rewarding part of this experience, having LeLoni as a mentor?
RB: For me, it was just the kinship of having someone to honestly tell you that your dream is possible and that there is a way to get there. I feel like I walked away from the experience more knowledgeable and confident. I think LeLoni is an amazing person, and I’m honored to have been her mentee.
A conversation with LeLoni Smith
GC: What inspired you to become a mentor through the UGA Mentor Program?
LS: I’ve always had an interest in mentorship. I served as a mentor during my UGA days at Clarke Middle School. When I was a student, I had very little knowledge of the entertainment industry and had to figure out a lot of things on my own, which resulted in a few twists and turns along my career path. If I could help provide some clarity to my mentee about my experiences then hopefully he/she or they will have a better sense of where to start after graduation.
GC: What does your mentorship consist of? How do you help your mentees, both Rylee specifically and, more broadly, all of your previous mentees through this program?
LS: I would like to think my mentorship process is easygoing but also transparent and direct. My mentees typically want to know about my career journey and how I got to where I am today, so I share the successes. But I also don’t sugarcoat the failures. Once I’ve shared my experiences, I love to hear what interests them and how we can set them up for success. My first task is to review their resume and make any necessary updates or changes. Once we’ve updated the resume, then the rest of the mentorship consists of open conversations about the industry and any advice I can share. Rylee and I shared a similar interest of engaging and programming for audiences outside of the United States, so we would discuss how to gain experience in the United States with aspirations of working outside of it. The best help I can give Rylee or any of my mentees is an honest conversation about my own experiences so they can decide their own path forward.
GC: What has been the most rewarding experience of mentoring, both Rylee specifically and, more broadly, all of your previous mentees through the UGA Mentorship Program?
LS: The most rewarding experience of mentoring is always the look of relief from my mentees when they are reassured that it is ok to make mistakes and not know what exactly to do after graduation. The entertainment industry is great because there is no direct path, so you can start one way and finish in a completely different way. And that is okay. With Rylee, it was nice to talk through all of her experiences because it made her realize that she was more qualified than she thought. As her mentor, it was my job to simply remind her.
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