Ambitious students meet real-world experience through their mentor matches.
The Alumni Mentor Program has been around so long that people who once were mentored are now mentoring others—several times over. And there’s a lot of them: in the last three years alone, more than 1,000 hours were spent mentoring 200 students across 100 different organizations, from print journalism and broadcast to advertising and corporate communications.
The program began in 1983 with 13 students. At the time, Carol Pine (B.A. ’67) sat on the alumni board along with Dan Wascoe (B.A. ’67); together they dreamed up a program that would continue year after year. “It was really lovely how this all unfolded,” she said. “We thought, if you ask anyone, they’ve had a mentor somewhere along the line, chiefly in their professional lives. We thought, well, let’s create one right here in the j-school.”
The parameters were purposely strict: Pine said they “kept it clean” by reiterating that mentors weren’t responsible for finding jobs for students. The work would come in advising and helping them understand what to expect in the marketplace—all the juicy details that, with hindsight, a professional often wishes they’d had future warning about, but that only exists through real-life experience. An organized launch, Pine said, made it an easy sell to pros working in the field. It was also a quick draw for students hungry for connections beyond Murphy Hall walls.
“Students are [generally] really checkbox-oriented and want to know what they need to do to succeed: If they take this class or this minor, will they be OK? That’s hard, because generally in life this isn’t how it works,” said Rebecca Rassier, associate director of student services and the person who currently facilitates tactical aspects of the mentor program. But, she said, the mentor program bridges those worlds. “To have someone doing the work they want to do, talking about the roadblocks they’ve experienced, and changes they went through, is key,” she said. “Experience takes you where you are, but you can’t map it out. Having someone in their field with lived experience explaining their trajectory is helpful.”
Heather Arntson (B.A. ’05, M.A. ’09), who is now a director of digital marketing, was one such student. She took a non-traditional pathway to the Hubbard School, and when she arrived, thought the mentor program would be a good opportunity.
“I told Ray Faust, my mentor, that I was thinking of doing two wildly different disciplines [at once]. He told me to choose one, because it wasn’t something you can parallel path. I didn’t know, because I was the first one in my family to go to college…It was instrumental having him.” Still is: Arntson meets with him once in awhile to get advice from someone a couple of steps ahead of her professionally.
She then picked up the torch when her time came to serve both as a mentor and on the alumni board, where she served for six years. The board strives to get student commitment up front, as board members are opening their personal contact lists to connect pros with students. “The really unique thing about the mentor program is that it is a customized match: Real people finding real people—not a computer database,” she said. “We’re going to our personal contacts and asking if they want to participate, which is really rare.”
The program has hummed along—serving between 40 and 60 students a year or more—for decades. And although the pandemic slowed things in some ways, it also opened up a whole new world: Mentors and mentees Zooming nationwide.
“What I love about Murphy Hall is that it is in Minneapolis—close proximity to thriving industries, in journalism as well as advertising. That connection between the alumni community as well as those professors or adjuncts or guest speakers…speaks so highly of the School, the alumni, and the mentor program,” Arntson said. “With the pandemic, [things became] totally digital and the program still happened. And now it’s national because we can do virtual meetings.”
The hope, of course, is that the mighty, all-volunteer outfit continues providing valuable insights to students long into the future.
“A lot of students said it made such a big impact for them,” said Arntson. “The longevity of the program, and the power of the people who come back year after year to mentor, speaks to the power of the program.”
By Katie Dohman