Colleges Implementing Mentorship Programs

By Staff
October 12, 2009

Some institutions of higher learning are turning to mentorship programs to help assist undergraduates undecided about their careers and to provide networking opportunities for students searching for jobs.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that at Carleton College in Minnesota, a "Mentor Externship Program" pairs students and alumni for intensive work arrangements and home stays for up to a month. Last December, the first six externships were conducted in New York, London and Chicago.

"It got to a level of mentoring that I hadn't seen in years and years of internships. . ." said Richard Berman, director of the Carleton Career Services Center. Instead of concentrating on internships, Web site applications and uploads, he said, "we're trying to get people talking to people."

Carleton's description of the program notes that "a premium is placed on conversations to and from work, after work, over meals, or at your local coffee shop. It's about work as a part of life, a common bond (that Carleton thing), and a relationship-centered experience." The description also says that externs typically stay in touch with hosts, "some with very strong relationships that endure and transcend any involvement by the career center or college."

Berman remarked that the economic downturn contributed towards efforts to get the program running. "The economy was huge because the traditional avenues were drying up," he explained. "So we appealed to alumni and parents and said, 'Our seniors sure drew a short straw. Here's an opportunity for as many of us who can, here is a chance to really step up and help this group of seniors. What a time to be coming out.'"

Another mentoring program at the University of Texas at Austin pairs students with graduate students or faculty members to help gain exposure to various careers. "Students come to us not knowing the options available to them," explained Richard A. Cherwitz, founder and director of the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Consortium, which runs the program. He told Inside Higher Ed that students "may know a few options like med school or law school, but they are often unfamiliar with research and the academy."

Jessica Kemp, for example, joined the program so that she could connect with a current law student who would serve as her mentor. The relationship helped her decide to take an LSAT preparation class and she ultimately scored well on the exam. She later sat in on her mentor's classes to determine whether to apply to UT's law school. Kemp is now in her third year there and mentors pre-law undergraduates.

"I tell my students all the things my mentor told me--what they should be doing, how best to prepare for the LSAT--and all the things I've learned on my own that I wish someone else would've told me," she said.

More than 700 students have enrolled in the program over the last five years, and another 140 are signed up for this fall.

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