New mentorship program gives students opportunity to learn from industry leaders

Jay Nordenstrom (left) is president of Carleton University Alumni Association and is also participating as a mentor in this year’s program. He says that, based on his experience, mentorship helps broaden students’ horizons and open up opportunities they often don’t know exist. (Luther Caverly Photo)

Carleton University has launched a groundbreaking new mentorship program that will give students and recent grads a unique opportunity to interact with industry leaders.

The Alumni Mentors Program is a collaborative effort between the Carleton University Alumni Association (CUAA) and the Department of University Advancement that will pair 100 upper-year students and recent grads with Carleton alumni who are established professionals.

The goal is to have accomplished alumni assist in developing skills for the workplace, says program co-ordinator Yvonne Langen. To qualify, participants must have a grade point average of at least 7.0 – the equivalent of 72 per cent.

“It’s really about providing a meaningful interaction that’s going to help people successfully navigate what can be, at times, a very challenging job market,” she says. “It’s really about a person with more advanced experience providing guidance and answering the questions of someone with less experience who’s motivated to be successful.”

Mentors are expected to spend at least an hour a month with their mentee. Meetings might consist of tours of workplaces, providing suggestions about interview skills and resume writing, or broader conversations about the labour market, potential career paths, and what employment opportunities could best fit with a particular degree.

Networking, says Langen, is another key component of the program.

“Anyone who has gotten into the workplace knows that it’s a lot about who you know and not just what you know,” she says. “Carleton provides the foundation of what you know and this program facilitates that further by providing a context in which you can develop a network.”

Carleton will organize faculty-specific gatherings so that students and recent grads can interact with all the other mentors from related fields. Mentors are also expected to invite their student to additional networking events.

In September, faculties will be asked to recommend students who meet the criteria for the program and would benefit the most. Those students will then have an opportunity to pick a mentor from an online database that contains the profiles of each of the 100 mentors. Organizers will then create matches.

The Alumni Mentors Program addresses the increasingly difficult job market conditions for students and recent grads, says Jay Nordenstrom, CUAA president. Nodenstrom approach the university about the program in December 2013.

“I suggested that we work together to develop a mentorship program that was the best in Canada, which has the greatest return and some of the richest experiences that a student or recent graduate could have with a leader in their field.”

Nordenstrom earned his BA in geography from Carleton in 2002 and is now the executive director of NAIMA Canada, a group representing mineral fibre and wool insulation manufacturers. He is also participating as a mentor.

He says, based on his experience, that the benefits of the program will be invaluable for young, motivated professionals.

Although other schools across North America offer mentorship opportunities, Nordenstrom says the hard work and resources Carleton has put into finding the best and brightest graduates from every field will make the program stand out.

“What makes this program unique is the calibre of our alumni, the calibre of our students, and the calibre the staff and the leaders that are running this,” he says.

Graduates, he says, were eager to participate in the program and were quick to recognize its potential.

“They know their task is very focused and it fills a very important need in society,” says Nordenstrom, “These leaders and making the time to support young people who are motivated to make a difference in our world.”

“You’d be amazed by the spirit of generosity that comes across with Carleton grads. It just shows that, when you come to Carleton, you enter a life-time relationship. It’s not just for four years, and then you’re gone.”

Mentor Mike Kelland graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering in 2004 and is now president and CEO of Boldradius, a software consultancy in Ottawa and San Francisco.

He says that beyond the practical skills participants will gain, they will also get a better sense of the options available once they enter the working world.

“When you’re in university, I’ve found that you can’t see everything that your industry has to offer. You have a very thin slice of people to speak to and expanding that through something like mentorship is really important,” says Kelland.

“I’d really like to give people the sense of the possible – that, really, there aren’t a lot of limits out there and that you can go out there and see a larger world that you can take advantage of an interact with on your own terms.”

The success of the project will be difficult to quantify, Langen says but organizers are working to develop metrics that will measure how the employability of students is affected by the program. In the immediate future, the assessment process will consist of surveys completed by all participants.

Regardless, adds Nordenstrom, Carleton is providing an invaluable opportunity to current students and recent grads to learn from successful professionals.

“I’ve had many mentors in my life in different areas and, sometimes, the relationships you build with them open up opportunities that you didn’t even know existed,” says Nordenstrom. “At Carleton, we have some of the best students and recent graduates who just need an opportunity to shine. This program is meant to help give them that opportunity.”


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