By PAULETTE PARKER
At times, landing that first big job out of college or that new position at work is more about who you know than what you know. Washtenaw Community College’s Student Resource and Women’s Center recognizes this and aims to give students a leg up with the Mentoring for Success program.
The program holds an annual event that allows participating students to meet professionals in the community with various backgrounds and positions. Students can network, talk to them about the types of positions they hold, what they hope to do in the future and hear about their companies and organizations.
Three years ago, it was a women-to-women mentoring program with approximately three participating students and a couple of mentors. Today, all students can participate, and it has expanded to approximately 186 mentors and students.
This year’s event will be held on May 5. It will have a three-tiered structure with a presentation, panel discussion and mentoring fair.
The presentation will cover topics including how to build a professional network, ways to do informal and formal mentoring and the best way to find a mentor outside of the event.
“We’re bringing it to you. But most people have to go out and find it,” Leslie Neal, a case manager at the SRWC, said. “So in the interim periods, you want to have as many mentors and professional network connections as you can.” The panel discussion will center around specific topics such as how the mentors knew they had the right major and how many actually work in the field they went to school for.
“Now, because of financial aid situations, you need a major,” Neal said. “Those courses that you’re taking need to be going toward that major.” The mentoring fair will be structured like a job fair, with mentors having tables set up for participants to visit.
The most important highlight is that each of the professional mentors comes up with a planned experience that students can sign up for, Neal said. These experiences include going to the mentor’s company, taking tours and job shadowing.
“The professionals come up with their own activities because we don’t like to pressure them into what they’re doing,” Neal said.
Through the program, students have had the opportunity to tour the American Red Cross and Ford Motor Company and have taken trips to the state Capitol to sit in on meetings. Mentors meet for a brainstorming session ahead of the event.
“Once they hear from other people on what they’re capable of doing, then they realize, oh, it really matters what I bring to the table,” Neal said. “Nobody wants to be the person that doesn’t’t have any students that want to come see what they do.” Neal qualifies students and mentors who are interested in participating.
“I try and meet with all the students and make sure that they’re in their core classes, that they’ve been here over one semester and that they are at the point of being able to really develop with a professional mentor.” Neal makes sure that the mentors have information that they want to give and that they are willing to give back.
“This doesn’t’t cost them anything, and we don’t pay them; it’s just giving of their time,” Neal said. Anne Preston, a retiree from the University of Michigan business school, has been a mentor for five years.
“For me, it’s just a matter of giving back,” Preston said. “I love the idea of sharing my experiences, the transfer of advice, knowledge, insights. It’s also getting to know students and developing friendships and relationships.”
WCC dietetics major, Alexandria Judkins, 26, of Ypsilanti, was one of Preston’s mentees. She sought out Preston due to her background in international business, which she originally wanted to go into.
“She helped me become the person I am today and helped me make the decisions I’ve made along the way and helped me grow into a more focused and organized person,” Judkins said. “I couldn’t’t have done it without this mentorship program.”
Preston mentored Judkins for about two years. While they don’t meet in person like they used to, due to hectic schedules, their mentor-mentee relationship has blossomed into more of a friendship.
“She gave me some hard love, and that’s what I needed. And she still gives me that hard love,” Judkins said. She is eager to encourage other students to participate in the program.
“Anytime somebody asks me about the program, I’m like, you need to do it,” she said. “It is so much help. I can’t thank Leslie enough, and I can’t thank Anne enough for this opportunity they’ve created for WCC students.” Neal’s goal for this year’s event is to recruit 50 to 60 mentors.
“I recruit all the way up until the day of the event,” Neal said. “I look at it like a business, so I’m always recruiting. I recruit when I’m at the doctor’s office; I recruit when I’m at a restaurant.” Neal calls the program a win-win situation for all those involved.
“There is no other way you can build a professional network without meeting professionals,” she said. “This program gives students a real-world view of what they may want to do – or never knew existed.”
Students can sign up at: www.wccnet.edu/mentee