We live in a world where it is often easy to talk the talk with very little follow through. At Gustavus Adolphus College, finding a vocation and “making your life count” has been part of the talk for years. Gustavus, however, doesn’t stop with talk. The College also has follow through that enables students to take steps in finding their vocational callings. Through the dedication of staff in campus offices, such as the Center for Servant Leadership, which highlights relationship building and career development, as well as through the work of professors in the many distinct academic departments, Gustavus has established a very unique “walk” to keep stride with its talk.
One department that has focused large amounts of time and effort into developing career-related opportunities for students is the Department of Economics and Management. The now well established Alumni Mentoring Program first began in 2010 as a student project in one of Professor Kathi Tunheim’s management classes. Tunheim’s students benchmarked alumni-student mentoring programs at other colleges and universities across the country and concluded that Gustavus students would benefit from its own mentoring program.
In 2010, Tunheim worked with Gustavus alumni Paul Batz ’85 and Scott Anderson ’89 to line up 12 mentors and 12 students for the first pilot of an alumni-mentor program. The program tripled in size during its second year, and now, in its fourth year, has grown to include 148 student-mentor pairs. The program has expanded from seniors only, to include juniors and has plans to add sophomores in the coming years. The program is now open to students from across all majors and interests; there are now students from the psychology, political science, and sociology and anthropology departments, to name a few. The program’s growth will enable more students to meaningfully participate in this life changing opportunity, just like alumna Kelsey Jensen ’13 did when she was a senior at Gustavus.
Like many undergraduate students, when Jensen thought about life after graduation she did not have a clear career path in mind. With a desire to discern her future, Jensen realized that involvement in the Alumni Mentoring Program would provide her with opportunities she otherwise wouldn’t have.
Now a Merchandise Specialist with Target Corporation, Jensen does not hesitate to attribute her current career to her involvement with the program. “Honestly, if it wasn’t for the mentoring program, I wouldn’t have the job I have today,” Jensen said. It is not simply her time with the program that Jensen cites as part of her success, but she also attributed much of it to her mentor, Becca Weaver ’06. Weaver, a senior business partner who specializes in store operations and service strategy for Target, first became involved with the Alumni Mentoring Program during the 2012-2013 academic year.
Once introduced at the program’s Fall banquet, Jensen and Weaver began discussing Jensen’s interests and seeking ways to explore career options. Weaver set up opportunities for Jensen to spend time with her at Target and to meet with people in different pyramids within the corporation. “It was so helpful to hear about what these people did in the “real world” and it really contributed to my decision making on what areas interested me and which didn’t,” Jensen said. This investment and dedication on behalf of a mentor who truly wants to help students is one of the program’s highlights. “When I started with picking my mentor, I chose Becca based on what she was looking for, where she worked, and what her job responsibilities were. It was also very reassuring that she was looking for someone who was serious about finding a job and doing the work to do so,” stated Jensen.
Through mini interviews and experiences at Target set up by her mentor, Jensen was able to determine what she enjoyed in the workplace as well as what she didn’t like. This enabled Jensen to think more about other career opportunities applicable to her strengths and interests, and helped to fuel her excitement for joining the real world. Less than a year later, Jensen is successfully employed with the company that she so eagerly explored through her connection with Weaver and the mentoring program. For Jensen and other students, developing a mentoring relationship can be immediately beneficial but is also an achievement that stays with you for a lifetime. “Being able to learn from the experiences of others and have someone in your corner during life’s challenges and rewards is a powerful thing,” said Weaver, who is looking forward to continued participation as a mentor after her experience with Jensen.
Early on during Jensen’s senior year, Weaver helped motivate Jensen when it came to the important task of job searching and soul searching for what she really wanted to do with her future. “Becca helped me realize that these things don’t come easy, and you really have to work for what you want,” said Jensen. This aspect of the mentoring program is echoed by Weaver, who commented that “the transition from college to starting a career can be an exciting but challenging time. It is helpful to have someone with a similar background, a fellow Gustavus alumnus, whom you can trust to ask questions and learn from his/her experience.”
Participation in the mentoring program is highly beneficial for current Gustavus students, but is also a rewarding experience for mentors. “First and foremost, it has allowed me to feel that I’m making a difference in a student’s life as he/she searches to find a vocation,” said Weaver. It is this that drew Weaver to the program, as she feels fortunate to have developed relationships with many talented mentors over the course of her own career who openly share their experiences, advice, and encouragement with her. “When I heard about the Gustavus Alumni Mentoring Program I felt it would be a great way for me to give back to others the way that so many mentors have helped me,” Weaver stated.
Together, mentee and mentor formed a professional and personal relationship to add to their networks. However, more than that, each gained a valuable connection that fostered growth both personally and professionally. The program comes highly recommended by both Jensen and Weaver, both of whom see the valuable role that the mentoring program has played in their lives.
The Alumni Mentoring Program has certainly grown into another promise of Gustavus’ commitment to preparing students for life after college, as an avenue for both employment and lifelong relationships. Gustavus is increasing the intensity of their “walk” by finding innovative ways to serve students and give them the opportunities to develop a valuable career. Meanwhile, other colleges are taking notice.
“We have had three colleges call and ask us how we run this program; they’re hearing about the benefits this has had for student participants and want to initiate a mentor program on their campuses,” says Tunheim. As Jensen can attest, the college’s ability to talk the talk and walk the walk can make all the difference for students during their time on campus and beyond.
Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Matt Thomas