Time and time again, there are discussions on campus and in the press about the need for and importance of mentors. Sure, students can use the career center and all the wonderful resources, services, and programs at their disposal. Many offices provide informational interview, job shadowing, and employers-in-residence options. More recently, broad-based mentoring programs have begun to spring up at colleges and universities, providing industry-specific career advice and shepherding through a job search and/or onboarding by way of a student’s ongoing relationship with an alumnus or professional from a particular field of interest. Both students and mentors tend to report that the relationships are beneficial and rewarding when all things click and both parties are committed to the relationship. The arrival of all of these niche and large-scale mentor programs has caused me to reflect on my own professional experience with mentors and as a mentor myself. I have certainly benefitted greatly, both early in my career and as a career center leader today, from experienced career services professionals in my sphere of influence, circle of friends, pyramid scheme, or what have you. And I am not ashamed to call them out.
My first mentors were at the University of Maryland at College Park (UMCP), when I was a mere babe in the woods, aka graduate intern. UMCP Career Center staffers like Linda Gast, Becky Weir, Linda Lenoir, and Cheryl Hiller helped me develop my personal framework of career counseling, provided me wonderful opportunities for growth and to contribute to a department, and encouraged me to stay in the field for the long haul. In my first full-time role at Suffolk County Community College, the ever optimistic and genuine Sylvia Camacho showed me how to run a flat office structure to great effect. Let’s not forget my boss of 13 years at NYU, my “Chief,” Trudy Steinfeld, who saw to it that I understood the Game of Thrones—I mean the politics that can occur in higher ed— modeled the fine art of schmoozing for me, and even rented me an apartment for a time. She is still someone I turn to in times of confusion or the need for advice. Her tag- team partner, Manny Contomanolis, has illuminated for me how best to manage up, has introduced me to the subtler ways and maneuvers of a director, and has always reminded me to stay true to who I am. I even have my very own support group or posse of peer directors who I can always count on for feedback and good humor. Presnell, Fredo, Nate, Lisa, and Jason all know who they are, or at least I hope so!
Having learned so much and come so far in part thanks to the presence of mentors in my professional life, when the chance came to serve as a NACE mentor, I seized the day, leaping up on my desk ala Dead Poets Society. (Sorry, I am known to be a bit theatrical.) I am currently in my fourth year of the NACE Mentor Program, and it has been a rich and rewarding experience for me. It has offered me a chance to meet both aspiring and seasoned professionals locally and throughout the country. I have connected with career services directors from large state colleges, small niche and liberal arts schools, faith-based institutions, and proprietary shops. While I hope my mentees feel that they have gained from our year-long relationships, I know that I have learned a great deal about challenges faced on different campuses, in different locations, and with different student populations. The questions I am asked and perspectives I get to share help me reflect on my own past experiences and my current work more frequently than I might normally spend time doing. I am occasionally stumped too. Certainly, not every aspect of our business is in my wheelhouse, but I try my best to offer what insights I can from my 20 years in the field and point in the direction of helpful resources if I am at a loss. Wait, that sounds like something a career counselor might do. Funny!
What I like most about the NACE Mentor Program is that there are many colleagues out there who may not have had the luck I did in having mentors through situational and natural circumstances. And every professional can use input, feedback , or someone to vent to at some level. The NACE Mentor Program helps make that happen, and I am proud to be a part of it.
Become a mentor! Information on the Mentor Program is available.