The Association of Yale Alumni is piloting a new mentor program this fall to provide students with general professional guidance, rather than just networking opportunities.
The program falls under the umbrella of a new joint initiative, “Careers, Life, and Yale” that the AYA, Students and Alumni of Yale and the Office of Career Strategy developed this year to connect students and alumni and increase alumni engagement on campus. The mentoring program was conceived in the spring, and alumni mentors were recruited during the late spring to early summer, according to Steve Blum ’74, senior director of strategic initiatives for the AYA. Over the last three weeks, 21 undergraduate, graduate and professional student participants were matched with their mentors, many of whom live outside of New Haven, to begin conversations about their career interests.
“Mentoring programs have popped up organically all over campus,” Blum said. “It’s one thing for that to happen, it’s another thing to have a program that draws on the entire alumni universe.”
Nancy Stratford ’77, an executive officer on the AYA board of governors who is spearheading the initiative along with Blum, said the AYA reached out to around 700 alumni from around the world inviting them to participate in the pilot program. Of these 700, about 100 expressed interest, and this pool was ultimately narrowed down to 21 alumni for a one-to-one pairing with students.
Stratford added that because of high alumni interest, the program plans to accommodate 20 additional student-alumni pairs in a second round of matching, which will likely take place in November. About half of the students currently involved are undergraduates and half are from the graduate and professional schools, she said.
“I think we have a wonderful opportunity for Yale alumni to engage themselves working with Yale students and serving as mentors — not just career mentors but sort of life mentors,” Lise Chapman SOM ’81, chair of the AYA board of governors, said.
Student recruiting for the program was organized through Students and Alumni of Yale with an email that was sent out to the group’s panlist inviting members to sign up for a mentor. Participating alumni were asked to submit biographical information including gender, academic focus, current career focus and geographic location, as well as other personal characteristics, Blum said. Students then ranked their mentor preferences according to their responses, without having the names of the alumni.
The pilot program is set to last for six months, although some student-mentor pairs may choose to continue the relationship after that initial period. Program organizers will check in with each pair after two months, Stratford said.
“We’re hoping that these pairings create sustained dialogue for at least six months to see how it goes,” Blum said. “We all know that there’s nothing that guarantees that the dialogue will be robust and permanent, but we wanted everyone to give it a six-month try.”
Andrew Steffan DIV ’15, a participant in the program, said he signed up to have a mentor last spring because graduation was approaching and he did not have definitive career plans. Steffan added that one of the most important factors for him in choosing a mentor was enthusiasm for the program, which he determined by paying close attention to the alumni’s personal statements.
Lucie Tvrznikova GRD ’19, a Ph.D. candidate in physics, said she had similar concerns for her future career, adding that she signed up for a mentor because she thinks she can benefit from the guidance of an alumnus who has already figured out a career path. Tvrznikova said that while she is undecided about whether she wants to stay in academia or go into industry after graduation, she hopes that having an alumni mentor can help her with the decision process.
Both students said they have already spoken with their mentors and are happy with the relationship that they have established so far.
“My mentor has been very helping in giving me human advice and a human perspective on interacting with individuals who are in career fields that I want to explore,” Steffan said.
There are over 120 domestic and 40 international Yale Clubs and Associations for alumni.