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Colleges and universities can use their alumni networks to help students forge professional connections.

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Mentorship is a valuable professional development tool for college students, but a significant number of students lack a role model to look up to and engage with.

Nearly half of students don’t have a mentor, and 55 percent say that’s because they don’t know how to find one, according to data from a 2021 Student Voice survey by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse.

So how can institutions help? In a 2023 Student Voice survey, 45 percent of surveyed students said they believe a career center should help them find a professional mentor, and 56 percent believe they should offer networking events. Just under one-third (30 percent) of students believe their academic adviser should be involved in helping them network and build connections in a given field.

Inside Higher Ed found five models from colleges and universities using alumni mentorship to support students’ career and personal development.

Thomas More University—BIO PACE

Shannon Galbraith-Kent, chair of the biology department at Thomas More University, established a program in 2023 to connect students with alumni in biology-related work to assist in career development and exploration.

The program, Biology Professional, Alumni and Career Experiences (BIO PACE), provides in-person and virtual events for Thomas More alumni to engage with undergraduate students. Galbraith-Kent’s aspiration is that students learn more about themselves and the available career fields for them in biology.

Assumption University—ASPIRE

In fall 2023, Assumption launched a program to help upper-level students navigate life after college beyond career development, but in their personal lives.

ASPIRE, short for Alumni-Student Partnerships in Reflective Engagement, unites students with alumni to talk through life challenges they may face after graduation, including navigating interpersonal relationships, managing personal finances and supporting their mental health.

The program is run out of the Center for Purpose and Vocation, with help from the Office for Alumni Engagement. During an initial event, students and alumni attended a minor league baseball game to chat and connect, specifically focusing on familial and significant relationships.

University of Southern California—Dornsife Alumni Mentoring

USC’s Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences provides students a structured mentorship experience, working with their alumni mentor over a nine-week period.

Foundations of Successful Mentorship

For mentors wondering how best to support their students, Kathy Graves Farley shared some tips in a Sept. 14 webinar by the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities.

  • Know your why and create a student-centered philosophy.
  • Build trust with your mentee through demonstrating care.
  • Invest in the student’s interests and connect that to larger goals.
  • Be proactive in skill development.
  • Celebrate wins when the student hits goals and milestones.
  • Meet the student where they are when they need additional support.

Read more here.

Staff match students with the alumni, and each participant agrees to attend two events together and complete six other activities in addition to weekly check-ins, in person, over Zoom or via phone call. Activities could include a mock interview, internship exploration, résumé review, learning to make small talk, job shadowing or participating in a social event on campus.

The program also provides alumni a chance to engage with each other at an alumni mixer toward the end of the term.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology—Team Training Workshops

All students in MIT’s Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program (UPOP) for sophomores participate in a Team Training Workshop (TTW).

The UPOP program provides students with skill-building workshops, one-on-one coaching, résumé and cover letter review, and mock interviews, along with other career development support. TTW takes place between the fall and spring semesters, assigning students in a small team with a professional mentor to work together on different activities. The experiential learning helps students connect and build on their professional skills as well as gain wisdom from their mentor, many of whom are MIT alums themselves.

University of Colorado at Boulder—Forever Buffs Networking Program

In addition to helping undergraduate students find a professional mentor, the Forever Buffs Networking Program from CU Boulder provides alumni-to-alumni mentoring, offering services to younger graduates still navigating their lives after college.

After being matched, all program participants participate in online training. Mentors and mentees can also earn a certificate and completion badge, credentialing them for their work.

New to the program this academic year are mentoring subgroups, which include BIPOC Mentorship, the College of Engineering and Applied Science, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the College of Media, Communication and Information.

Do you have a career prep tip that might help others encourage student success? Tell us about it.

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