Michele Gianforcaro didn’t have an easy task ahead of her when she launched a pilot mentorship program for female business students at Villanova University’s School of Business back in January of 2014.
Just under 100 female students initially signed up for the pilot the first year, and she spent long hours over the next few weeks to make sure she and her staff found each student a mentor who aligned precisely with the students’ career goals, the geographic area where they wanted to work and other preferences listed in their applications. They used survey tools and databases to help them manually match the students with the 400 women alums who’d volunteered, but it still proved a difficult task to find each student the perfect fit.
“We joked it was Match Madness during March Madness,” says Gianforcaro, assistant director of professional development at Villanova’s Charles and James V. O’Donnell Center for Professional Development.
PARTNERSHIP WITH MENTORSHIP PLATFORM, CHRONUS
The program grew to 200 students the following year, and when it came time to scale the program this year so that all of the 400 students in the current sophomore class could be paired with a mentor, Gianforcaro knew she needed a way to make the process more efficient. While researching vendors in the marketplace, she learned of Chronus, a company with mentorship software that uses a matching algorithm called “MatchIQ” to automate recommendations for mentorship matches based on users’ profiles and interest. Villanova had recently received funds from an alum to support the expansion of its mentorship program, and Gianforcaro was eager to bring Chronus, dubbed by some as the “match.com” of the mentoring world, on board.
“It got me out of the matchmaking business and is a saving grace for me with efficiency,” says Gianforcaro.
While many companies and nonprofits are now using mentorship software programs to help them grow their in-house mentorship programs, universities have been an untapped market until recently. Mentorship programs for undergraduate business students are increasingly being seen by business schools as a powerful tool to help give students a competitive edge in the job market as well as increase alumni engagement, explains Chronus CEO Seena Mortazavi.
“It is becoming an important selling point to attract students to universities,” says Mortazavi. “It’s not just enough to have the best professors or best facilities, but they also want that hands-on mentorship experience and someone who can help guide them through their career.”
B-SCHOOLS ARE THE EARLY ADOPTERS ON CAMPUS
Chronus is moving aggressively into this market, and has been successful at getting the attention of university administrators like Gianforcaro who often struggle with the day-to-day logistics of making mentorship matches in a large-scale programs. The company was founded in 2007 by engineers from Microsoft and Oracle who’d undergone successful mentorship experiences during their careers and wanted to build a platform that could help others easily connect to mentors. In the last few years, Chronus has made inroads on dozens of university campuses, with undergraduate business programs paying particular interest, Mortazavi says.
“Undergraduate business programs are often the first to jump on, and then it spreads to other schools on campus, and in some cases across the entire undergraduate population,” says Mortazavi.
Villanova is using the Chronus software for the first time this year, is also piloting the mentorship program in the MBA program, says Gianforcaro. They will also eventually use it in their Master of Science in Finance degree program. According to Mortazavi, other undergraduate business programs using the software include the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business and University of Washington’s Foster School of Business.
The company’s software pinpoints five top alum matches for each students, and then the student is able to select the mentor of their choice and send them an e-mail and personal invite to be their mentor. Once the mentor accepts the student’s invite, the software helps them develop their relationship by prompting the pair to e-mail each other, organize coffee dates and set specific goals. Mortazavi says in some cases, the mentors and mentees will even sign contracts agreeing to commit time to the relationship.