Everyone wants to make an impression, to create the program that students love. Everyone wants to create the program that is great for the university. But what if that program already exists, just not on your campus or in your department? A year ago, I found myself in that position. Our office had a mentoring program that slowly disappeared. Every year we said, “We need to reinvent that program, it’ll be a summer project” (stay tuned for the blog post about summer projects I still need to write). Then the next year would begin, and we hadn’t structured the program. Last summer, we realized great mentoring programs do exist, and isn’t copying the greatest form of flattery?
We started with a very basic goal. As a career center for business students, we wanted to pair undergraduate business students with business professionals who shared career fields or interests. We know that everyone could use a mentor, and millennials especially want a mentor. And from an experiential learning point of view, the more exploring and learning you can do about a career path, the better. Plus, who couldn’t use a contact and a little help networking in their future industry?
We met with creators of other programs and with their support, shaped our program after theirs. After our initial meeting, we sent an email to students to gauge their level of interest. As much as we wanted to have the program, if students weren’t interested, there was no sense in creating it. Luckily, there was an overwhelming amount of interest. I followed the interest email with an application email, and 19 students responded—a respectable amount for a pilot program. The next step was to contact mentors, but I wasn’t sure what to say beyond “would you like to be a mentor for an undergraduate business student for the 2016-2017 academic year?” That’s where these other programs came to the rescue—they sent me a sample email that I tailored to match our needs. Once my office had the mentor/student matches, I sent introduction emails based on another sample email.
Following the trends of the excellent programs I was using as examples, I made suggestions. Have lunch or coffee meetings. Allow the student to shadow the mentor. Share articles about hot topics in the industry. The goal was to have enough structure that people weren’t struggling with ideas but to have enough freedom that each pair could choose what worked for them. Along those same lines, I wanted to be available to the mentors, but respect their time as a volunteer. My office made minimal requests of the mentor throughout the year. So a few short months after the conversations started, my office ran a pilot program for the 2016-2017 year.
Today, I am one year into a mentoring program that will be continuing into future years. The deadline for evaluations was yesterday, and my next step is to analyze the data. I will determine what worked, what didn’t, and what needs to change before doing it all again next year. Was it perfect? Nope. Did we have hiccups along the way? Definitely. Did I worry we were moving too fast to kick off the program? Of course. Was I learning as I was going? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, we have a program up and running that we’ve needed for a long time. Students are getting additional insight into future careers, and isn’t that what we wanted in the first place?
This post is part of our #SACareer series, addressing careers in student affairs, careers outside of student affairs, and the work of career services professionals. Read more about the series in Jake Nelko’s intro post. Each post is a contribution by a member or friend of the Commission for Career Services from ACPA. Our organization exists to benefit the careers of career services professionals, student affairs professionals, and anyone supporting students in the career endeavors. For more information about how to get involved with the Commission for Career Services or the #SACareer blog series, contact Cristina Lawson at firstname.lastname@example.org.