Katherine Connor, executive director of career development at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds Schools of Business, is somewhat of a mentorship guru in the management education world. Since she started her school’s thriving mentorship program for undergraduate business students in 2009, she has fielded phone calls from more than a dozen schools who sought to start their own mentorship programs including MIT, the University of Michigan, and Arizona State University. These schools and others have looked to her for advice because Leeds has crafted a seamless mentorship experience that starts for many students from the moment they set foot in school, Connor says.“We tell them from day one this is something you do while you’re here. It’s part of the experience,” Connor tells Poets&Quants.
Freshman who sign up are connected with an upper class student mentor their first year of school. Sophomores then move onto the Young Alumni Mentors program, where the school matches them with a recent Leeds graduate now in the workforce. By their third year of school, they are paired with a more experienced professional who guides them, often virtually, through the job and internship process their junior and senior year. By the time they graduate, about 75% of Leeds students have had a mentor as part of their college experience. The mentors and mentees gather together every spring for the school’s annual mentoring celebration, where many get to meet face-to-face for the first time.
“It is kind of a huge love-fest,” Connor explains. “So many of our mentors stay connected with students, help them during their first year on the job, and even go to their weddings.”
BUSINESS SCHOOLS NOW MAKING UP ONE-THIRD OF CHRONUS ACADEMIC CUSTOMERS
Mentorship programs are having a renaissance of sorts at undergraduate business programs and universities all over the country. Leeds’ program, which uses Chronus mentorship matching software to pair students with mentors, will be celebrating its tenth anniversary next year, but many other business schools are just getting their mentorship programs off the ground. In the last few years, the Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business, Villanova University’s School of Business, and the University of Pittsburgh’s College of Business Administration have launched their own programs. Administrators at these B-schools are looking for new and innovative ways to connect students with their alums, something that a well-designed and easily scalable mentorship program can easily deliver on, Connor says.
A growing number of schools are using mentorship software programs such like Chronus, which uses a matching algorithm called “MatchIQ” to automate recommendations for mentorship matches based on users’ profiles and interest, making it easer than ever before for business schools to start these programs. The software allows universities to adapt easily to trends in the mentorship world, such as the recent rise of flash mentoring, where students use the mentorship software to arrange one-time meet-and-greets or interviews with a prospective mentor.
Administrators at these schools say they are already seeing results in terms of higher alumni engagement and, anecdotally, evidence of improved career outcomes for students.
This doesn’t surprise Chronus CEO Seena Mortazavi, who says business schools now make up about one-third of the company’s academic customers. The company has recently seen an uptick in business programs signing up to use the software, particularly international business programs. “Mentoring is becoming a key pillar for universities that are looking to give their students an edge in career placement,” Mortazavi confirms.
HUNDREDS OF VILLANOVA BIZ MAJORS PARTICIPATING IN PROGRAM
Villanova has matched up more than 850 pairs of mentors since first piloting its mentorship program in January of 2014. The school officially rolled out its mentorship program in February of 2016, with 150 sophomores signing up for the first year. Enrollment has grown every year as word of the program has spread, with 250 sophomores participating in the program this year, says Michele Gianforcaro, assistant director of professional development at Villanova’s Charles and James V. O Donnell Center for Professional Development. Villanova also uses Chronus software to pair sophomores with alumni mentors in one-to-one relationships that run through graduation. Alumni have been eager to participate in the program, and the school has secured over 1,000 alumni volunteer mentors for the programs, ranging from the class of 1962 to 2015, Gianforcaro explains. According to Gianforcaro, the school does not track career outcomes for students with mentors, but participants tell her mentors give them targeted career guidance that helps them land internships quicker and stand out from the crowd.
“I think students are landing in the right job sooner or staying away from the wrong jobs because of their mentoring relationships,” Gianforcaro explains. “Students love that they have a personal confidant, a mentor that they can go to on faith and say, ‘I’m not really sure what I want to do.’ Our alumni are excited to get involved too. They tell us all the time, ‘I wish I had a program like this when I was in college.’”
For the first time this year, Villanova introduced a new “Flash Mentoring” track, which allows students to access Villanova’s database to pick a volunteer alum and reach out to them for a one-time meeting. Over 300 alumni have volunteered to serve as “flash mentors” for students, Gianforcaro says, and many juniors and seniors are taking advantage of this new offering as they embark on their job search. ”Flash mentoring is very much on trend with millennials,” she says. “It’s an added benefit for students who want to opt in and get more experience with alumni.”
ARIZONA STATE’S CAREY SCHOOL INTEGRATING MENTORING INTO CLASSROOM
Growth has come fast and furious to the undergraduate mentoring program at Arizona State’s’s W. P. Carey School, started at the bequest of Dean Amy Hillman in 2014. Hillman wanted to find a way for undergraduates to reach out to and meet professionals outside of the school, as well as give alums a chance to reconnect with their alma mater, explains Jennifer Shick, the assistant director of student engagement and the mentorship program at the Carey School.
There were about 50 students who signed up for the program in 2014, but participation has steadily grown as word of the program has spread. This past fall, 596 students signed up, Shick says. Like Leeds and Villanova, the school uses Chronus software to manage the program and their own flash mentoring.
The school is trying to boost student participation by bringing the mentorship program into the classroom. Carey has a required career development course for juniors, and, for the first time this year, offered the mentorship program to students as an extra credit option. Of the 1,500 students in the class, 300 signed up and agreed to write reflections on their mentorship experience as well as complete the milestones required by the program. By the end of the school year, however, only 47 students followed through and received the extra credit.
“It was a disappointing drop off, but I still think one of the ways to get students at the school involved in a mentorship relationship is to tie it into academics,” says Shick, who plans to introduce the mentorship program next year into other classes juniors take at the school. “We can hold this out as something they can do to move forward in their career goals and make sure they are in the right industry.”
FROM MENTEE TO MENTOR
The University of Pittsburgh launched its Pitt Business Mentoring Match program this year, using the mentoring platform Xinspire to help match up students with alums. To date, 200 students, ranging from freshman to seniors, have signed up for a mentor, and 400 alums from all over the country have agreed to be a mentor, Audrey Murrell, the associate dean of the College of Business Administration, says. The program’s rollout has been a big success and plans are underway to grow the program to accommodate even more students and mentors, Murrell explains.
“A good problem to have would be more demand than we can accommodate,” Murrell continues. “You can’t show the return on investment in mentoring relationships, but you can make a good case for the power of mentoring relationships. They give students a safe place to talk about things they are concerned about and it gives us an unexpected resources to make sure we are doing all we can to support student.”
Mentorship programs can shape students’ college experience in unexpected ways. Rachel Wilcox, a business student at the Leeds School, signed up for her school’s Peer2Peer mentoring program her freshman year, and had such a positive experience that she continued on with the school’s Young Alumni mentoring program as a sophomore this year. Wilcox was matched with Monica Agsam, an accountant from Ernst & Young in New York City. Agsam has helped Wilcox hone in on her major (operations and finance), fine tune her career goals, and connected her with friends who work in the finance world. Wilcox plans to continue with the school’s Professional Mentorship program next year as a junior and hopes to serve as a peer mentor next year to freshman and eventually serve as an alumni mentor after she graduates from Leeds.
“My mentor this year has helped me more than anyone else with figuring out what major I want to do and narrow down what I think is best for me,” Wilcox says. “My mentors were so amazing that if I can give back and do something for another freshman, like my mentor did for me, I will be so happy.”
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