The Pathways Mentoring Program connects alumni and students in a formal mentor-mentee partnership.
One of Amherst College’s greatest assets is the engaged and committed alumni network. Not only do graduates stay in contact with one another, but they maintain a connection and dialogue with those on campus. For years, the Career Center has encouraged students to reach out to alumni, who have been generous in sharing insights and wisdom. Last fall, the office of Alumni and Parent Programs and the Career Center launched the Pathways Mentoring Program, which connects alumni and students in a formal mentor-mentee partnership.
The aim of Pathways is twofold: to help students and to engage alumni. Pathways does just that by matching students and alumni in mutually beneficial relationships. “Mentors ask questions the students aren’t asking themselves,” said Ursula Olender, director of the Career Center and associate dean of students, who co-manages Pathways with Carly Nartowicz, associate director of online programs. “This helps students reflect on and think intentionally about what they are doing with their time on campus.”
Once at Amherst, the flexible schedule and plethora of options can be overwhelming. “That’s where Pathways can come in with active mentoring and bridge that gap,” said Denny Meadows ’84, (above) who mentored two students this year. She and her fellow mentors help students identify, enhance and reorient the skills they develop at Amherst.
How it works
Meadows and Milo Dee ’09, (below) who also mentored two students, were impressed by the motivation and follow-through of their mentees. Pathways is an opt-in program, so students are proactive and eager for interaction. The Career Center provides structured support for mentors and mentees, which can help guide conversations and goal setting.
Each alumni participant fills out a questionnaire, creating a virtual profile of his or her background, passions and expectations. Students browse the profiles of prospective mentors and then initiate contact via the Pathways online interface. Once a request has been made, a proposed mentor may review that student’s profile, which includes answers to similar questions, or have a phone conversation. The alumni mentor then accepts or declines the partnership. Each mentor can have up to two mentees per semester. “Ultimately, it is up to the students to try to make the best out of this opportunity,” said David Chang ’16, one of Dee’s mentees.
Mentors are neither expected nor encouraged to provide jobs or internships. Instead, Meadows described her role as “a sounding board and goal-accountability partner.” She offers advice on how her mentees can position themselves strategically, play to their strengths and leverage opportunities available on campus.
“Pathways helps you identify the tools you are cultivating at Amherst and learn how to best apply them,” said Amelia Schoenbeck ’14, one of Meadows’ mentees. “That is much more worthwhile long-term than alumni just handing you a job.”
How it helps
Ralph Washington ’16 joined Pathways looking for perspective on whether to pursue finance or consulting. Dee had experience in both sectors. Currently a senior associate at Sycamore Partners, Dee tried to demystify these two fields for Washington, describing typical assignments and workdays.
“This program is a great way for students to learn how they can take the extremely valuable, but sometimes more theoretical and abstract, concepts learned at Amherst and see how this relates to the real world,” said Dee. This summer, Washington is interning in sales and trading at Citibank in New York.
Mentoring need not be constrained by industry. Jessica Kaliski ’15 (right) had no interest in retail but was drawn to Meadows’ leadership background and personality. “Our interests didn’t necessarily align,” said Kaliski. “But I could tell that she would be someone I could look to as a role model.” Kaliski, who hopes to pursue environmental science or public policy, is interning this summer at Resource Environmental Solutions in New Orleans.
The Pathways program welcomes alumni from all walks of life, including those who are retired or taking time off for any reason, as they have a great deal to offer.
“As someone who has had life experiences, you are going to have insights, advice and suggestions,” said Dee. “This is an opportunity for you to take some of that valuable knowledge and share it with someone who really wants to use it to grow.”
Pathways is open to all students, and this year about 80 percent of active profiles were for sophomores and first-year students. Many are looking for guidance in managing their time. Washington, for example, wanted to learn “what should I be doing at Amherst now so that I can be prepared later in life.”
A survey of Pathways participants revealed that they spent 44 percent of their time talking about academic topics, 28 percent on general life topics and 28 percent on professional topics. Schoenbeck wanted advice on work-life balance. Kaliski wanted to improve her speaking and leadership skills. Meadows advised Kaliski, an economics major, to look into course requirements for graduate programs in public policy. Dee pushed Chang and Washington to expand their focus beyond economics and try other subjects.
While the Career Center has been helping students connect with alumni for years, typically those were one-off interactions, and some students were hesitant to contact alumni, saying it felt like they were making a cold call. “With Pathways, you have this agreement of a one-on-one relationship, and you are encouraged to continue the conversations,” said Chang (right).
In its inaugural two semesters, 245 Pathways partnerships were formed, but that is just the beginning. “My dream of how Pathways develops,” said Dee, “is for it to become a giant Amherst network that can connect students to any profession or any interest.” Indeed, a goal for next year will be to expand the diversity of interests, majors and industries that are represented in the mentoring pool.
The Pathways program continues to grow, with 734 registered mentors. Student interest is also on the rise, with 564 registered. “We have such a strong alumni network,” said Schoenbeck. “And the information one can gain from this network is priceless.”
Interested alumni are encouraged to register for Pathways via the Amherst website or to email email@example.com. Ursula Olender and Carly Nartowicz are eager to help with the creation of mentor profiles and to answer any additional questions.